Bridge digital gender divide, protect girls, and promote girl leadership online

29 MARCH 2021

Bridge digital gender divide, protect girls, and promote girl leadership online – Girl leaders, Plan International Philippines

by Aly Narvaez

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Child and girls rights organization Plan International Philippines, along with girl leaders, culminated its National Women’s Month and Girl Child Week celebration with an amplified call for girls and young women’s freedom, protection, participation, and leadership online.

In an online event dubbed ‘Kababaihan, Kabataan, Online: An Online Youth Discussion’ on March 27, girl leaders from different youth organizations led a conversation on education, leadership, online safety, and advocacy of girls and young women in the new normal. Moderated by TV personality and women and girls’ rights advocate Hershey Neri, the two-hour discussion was conducted by Plan International Philippines, in partnership with youth-led organizations Y-PEER Pilipinas and the Center for Youth Advocacy and Networking (CYAN), and with support from the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT).

“A Plan International study shows that more than half of girls and young women in the world have experienced online harassment. In the Philippines, the study has recorded seven out of ten girls,” shared Ana Maria Locsin, Country Director of Plan International Philippines, in her opening message. “We wish that this conversation can help enlighten us, especially our duty-bearers or those bearing the most responsibility, as to how girls and young women can be supported and protected.”

On bridging the digital divide, protection, and promoting girls and young women’s leadership and participation

In sharing their experiences and advocacies in the online discussion, girl leaders Daine, Raquel, Cheska, and Dorothy highlighted the various challenges that girls and young women face in navigating the online world, particularly in this time of pandemic.

Issues raised by the girl leaders include the digital gender divide that affect girls’ education, their vulnerability to online gender-based violence, and the need to create free and safe spaces for girls to participate and to become leaders.

“Being a student in this time is really challenging. The inaccessibility of some students to our remote learning setup is a main issue and up to now, we are still navigating our way through this new process,” according to Daine, an advocate from CYAN. “This problem needs an urgent solution. We need to ensure that no student is left behind.”

Daine also emphasized that these hardships experienced by students and online learners are further exacerbated by increased exposure to risks and threats of harassment and violence simply by being online. This is echoed by Dorothy, a girl scout and a Girls Get Equal advocate, who highlighted the vital roles of the government and the private sector, especially tech and social media companies, in protecting girls and young women online.

“Tech companies are male-dominated. To protect girls from all forms of violence online and make change work for women, we need more representation in the industry,” said Dorothy. “The government and the private sector should include us in crafting policies and making decisions that affect us. Girls know the problem best because they experience it.”

Raquel, also a Girls Get Equal advocate and a Youth Council leader, shared that online protection and freedom for girls should also come with more spaces for advocacy, participation, and leadership.

“While it is true that using the internet has risks, it is also good to note that we can use it to influence, become leaders, and even protect youth like ourselves,” emphasized Raquel. “For instance, our Youth Council actually uses the internet to check on our fellow youth and ensure that they are okay and safe.”

According to Cheska, a Y-PEER advocate, being a girl leader and advocate during COVID-19 might be really difficult and disheartening, especially when some girls feel that they can only do so much. However, in here message to fellow girls, she stressed that “every effort, whether online or offline, counts.”

“Given our online setup, there are so many challenges to being an advocate today. Sometimes, you’d feel like the engagement and solidarity are waning because everything’s online. But we shouldn’t let it stop us,” said Cheska. “Let’s use online spaces to reach, influence, and inspire more. Let’s use the internet to empower ourselves so we can help empower others as well.”

Commitment from DICT

In response to the girl leaders’ call for freedom, safety, protection, and participation online, the DICT committed to providing more avenues to listen more to girls and young women, and to continue working with other stakeholders toward gender-responsive ICT policies and safer online spaces.

“We are with you. Remember that DICT is always here to promote the use of ICT while protecting you in navigating online spaces,” emphasized Donna Estrelles-Nuqui, Chief of DICT’s Policy Management, Coordination, and Advocacy Division, in her response to the girl leaders.

Estrelles-Nuqui said that they acknowledge the concerns raised by the girl leaders and that online violence and victimization, especially of children and young people, is still pervasive. This is why the DICT, according to her, will continue to foster a whole government and whole society approach in keeping children and young people, especially girls and young women, safe and empowered online.

“We will work with Plan International Philippines toward a strengthened countrywide campaign on online safety. We also fully support the implementation of the Safe Spaces Act and its implementation in online spaces and schools,” added Estrelles-Nuqui. “We will involve our partners and stakeholders, including girls, in our policy formulation process. We believe that girls like you can provide wisdom. You are the best equal partners in nation-building.”

The online youth discussion is an effort under Plan International’s #FreeToBeOnline campaign which seeks to end online gender-based violence and advocate for girls and young women’s freedom and safety online.

Media Contact:

Aly Narvaez

Communications Specialist-Media Relations

Plan International Philippines 

+63 998 962 2399

Girls Get Equal, Protection from violence, girls’ leadership