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Empowering Girls to Thrive in the Digital World

The International Day of the Girl Child, Observed annually on October 11th, holds great significance as a global occasion to advocate for the rights and well-being of girls worldwide. In an increasingly interconnected world shaped by technology, we take the chance to highlight the critical role of promoting girls empowerment in the digital environment. It is essential to recognise the opportunities digital platforms provide for education and development, while also addressing the challenges girls encounter online, especially the alarming threat of online child sexual abuse material (CSAM) distribution and exploitation.

Challenges and Opportunities of Online Spaces

The digital world offers many opportunities for girls to access educational resources, and information, as well as platforms for self-expression, creativity, activism and social change. For example, young girls like Malala Yousafzai have harnessed digital platforms to amplify their voices on issues like girls' education and freedom, inspiring a global movement for change. However, the digital landscape also poses significant challenges. Girls are often subjected to gender-based discrimination, encountering bad actors that can hinder their growth and aspirations.

Cyberbullying and online harassment can break their confidence and emotional well-being, impacting their overall sense of safety online. For instance, a study by UNICEF found that over 70% of young people reported experiencing cyberbullying, with girls representing the majority.

Empowering Girls Online

Empowering girls in the digital world begins with equipping them with essential skills and knowledge. Digital literacy plays a crucial role in enabling them to make informed decisions based on accurate information and navigate the online world responsibly. Organisations like Plan International have launched digital literacy programs to teach girls about online safety and critical thinking, empowering them to use technology safely. The 2023 UN program also focuses on enhancing digital literacy among girls, fostering their confidence in utilising technology as a tool for growth.

Promoting Safe Online Spaces

Addressing the lack of safety for girls online requires collective action and innovative solutions. One of the most pressing online threats faced by girls is the distribution and consumption of CSAM. According to the Internet Watch Foundation, 76% of the CSAM reports received in 2022 depicted children aged 10 or younger. This heinous form of exploitation has a profound impact on the lives of vulnerable children, leaving them scarred both physically and emotionally.

In 2022, girls remain the primary victims of CSAM, with 91% of reports depicting girls, and 7% showing the abuse of boys. INHOPE’s network of hotlines allows individuals to report CSAM anonymously, facilitating its swift removal from the internet and protecting vulnerable girls from exploitation. By strengthening reporting mechanisms within online platforms and collaborating with tech companies, governments and other stakeholders, we can work towards an internet free of CSAM.

The prevalence of digital threats, such as exposure to harmful content, can prevent girls from benefiting from the positive aspects of the internet. Fear of online harassment may deter girls from actively participating in digital spaces, preventing them to access educational resources.

The International Day of the Girl Child serves as an opportunity to create a better future for girls. Together we can work towards a digital space that safeguards the potential of children, free from CSAM. By empowering girls we allow them to thrive and unleash their potential for positive change.

Safer Internet Day would not be possible without the support of the European Union. Funding is provided by the Digital Europe Programme (DIGITAL). Learn more about the European Commission’s new European strategy for a better internet for kids (BIK+) on the EC website.

Empowering Girls to Thrive in the Digital World