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#GirlsInICT: Girls don’t feel safe online – here’s how to fix it

9 minute read

These are the best ways to promote safe and reliable access to the internet and digital tools for girls and young women, according to experts.

The internet has revolutionised and uplifted society, but not all have emerged equal. Globally, only 48 per cent of women use the internet, compared to 55 per cent of men. This means that the global Internet use gender gap stands at 12.5 per cent. Many girls and women also face online abuse and harassment in the online space. Their lack of access to a safe digital environment creates a digital learning gap, where girls are struggling to develop the skills and experience needed to get the full benefit of the digital universe. Consequently, we see women being underrepresented in engineering and ICT jobs, top management and academic careers, and they are four times less likely than men to become ICT specialists. It does not help that female role models in ICT are few and far between.

For girls and young women to thrive in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers, they need safe and reliable access to the internet and digital tools. As a company with a strong commitment to building digital skills, including skills that help girls and young women mitigate online risks, Telenor, together with our partners like Plan International, aim to develop solutions and ideas for lowering the barriers to access and improving online safety for girls and young women.

On this year’s Girls in ICT Day, we look into some of the challenges girls face in the online space and consult experts on what it takes to address them.

Bhagyashri Dengle
Bhagyashri Dengle, Executive Director at Plan International, is one of the experts sharing insights and advice on young girls and ICT.

Misinformation and disinformation

Many still think that technology is not for women and that girls are weaker than boys. These stereotypes discourage girls from continuing their studies in science and technology, which is also why there are not many women working in ICT. Support from society and government is key if we want to encourage more girls to pursue a career in these fields.

— Yuki (14), Thailand

Plan International’s “The Truth Gap” (2021) report reveals that online misinformation and disinformation restrict girls’ participation in politics and current affairs. As girls and young women struggle to disentangle truth from false information, their trust in sources drop. Mis- and disinformation has a negative impact on 87 per cent of the girls surveyed.

  • 1 in 4 girls feel less confident sharing their views.

  • 1 in 5 girls stop engaging in politics or current affairs.

  • 7 in 10 girls and young women have never been taught how to spot misinformation/disinformation at school or by family members.

Bhagyashri Dengle, Executive Director, Asia Pacific Region and Gender Transformative Policy & Practice, Plan International, says:

“Girls and young women would benefit from digital media literacy guidance. It is important that learning these skills needs to be part of an overall education system that promotes gender equality.”

Min Xie, Senior Research Scientist, Telenor Research says:

“Young women need to know that they are not alone in having doubts about whether they are good enough. Mentorship can play a role in this – as well as the opportunity to interact with others. Active participation, asking questions, not holding back in discussions, these are skills that need to be fostered. I know that many girls benefit from recognizing that someone else has gone through a similar experience – and seeing that person now thriving in her career. In a male-dominated environment, female role models are important.”

Yuki calls on governments to do more to promote ICT to girls and young women.

Online harassment

I have friends who ... have been bullied, especially in chat groups. Some of them do nothing when they see others mocking their friends because they do not want to be targeted next or excluded. I think that this is morally wrong.

— Yuki (14), Thailand

More than half the girls surveyed in Plan’s “Free to Be Online” report (2020), aged between 15 and 25 years old, have experienced online harassment and abuse.

  • 50 per cent of girls said they face more online harassment than street harassment.

  • One in five girls (19 per cent) have left or significantly reduced use of a social media platform after being harassed

  • One in five (22 per cent) of those surveyed saying they or a friend have been left fearing for their physical safety

Bhagyashri Dengle, Plan International says:

“It is our responsibility to ensure that instead of being barriers, technology and the internet become enablers for girls and women. We work to ensure that girls and women have equal access to learning relevant technical skills and digital literacy in schools and through training programmes to be able to take advantage of technology and digital tools and those girls have a right to be safe online and be free to speak up without harassment.“

Min Xie, Telenor Research says:

“When I grew up in China, my teachers and parents saw that I had a talent for math and chemistry. They were keen that I should develop that talent and pursue a career in STEM. That encouragement made a world of difference. We know that negative online experiences can impact the confidence of young women facing crucial choices about their future education and careers, which is why it is so important that we explore different ways of helping them grow their confidence and self-esteem.”

Min Xie, Research Scientist in Telenor Research
Min Xie is grateful that her parents encouraged her to pursue a career in STEM.

Privacy concerns

I use Google and Instagram the most, so I have become more aware of the dangers of companies knowing so much about their users. I try to keep this in mind while still allowing myself to enjoy my interests.

— Rebecca (18), Norway
Rebecca Brennen
Rebecca has become more aware of online privacy over the years.

Telenor’s SmartLife survey 2020 revealed privacy knowledge among young people in Pakistan and Malaysia is low, but on the rise.

  • Fewer than 45 per cent of mobile internet users clear their web history or deactivate their location.

  • Only about 32 per cent block cookies.

  • Young people are also more willing to share credit card information online.

Kulani Kulasingam, Data Protection Officer at Digi Telecommunications says:

“Young consumers are now more aware of the role that data is playing in their lives, but given the complex digital environment we find ourselves in today, we don’t often have the leisure of time to take the right steps to make smart choices and take control over our data. Young people should be encouraged to take an active interest in their digital footprint – what is being shared, with whom and refrain from oversharing. It is also important to encourage young people to talk to parents/guardians if they are worried or in doubt.”

Kulani Kulasingam
Kulani Kulasingam hopes to see more adults encourage young people to care about what traces they leave behind online.