Malta wins the Women and Girls in STEM Forum 2023 - Robot Competition

In today’s digital age, the internet has evolved into a powerful tool for education, communication, and connection. Everyone, everywhere is now on the internet, from young children, to pets, influencers, entrepreneurs, and even your 70-year-old Nanna. However, it’s undeniable that the internet, much like a double-edged sword, comes with its set of consequences if not used with caution and awareness. Research from various sources underscore this concerning reality: girls and young women are being disproportionately impacted by online harassment, cyberbullying, and misinformation. The toll of these experiences extends far beyond mere trauma or compromised safety; as highlighted by the European Parliament in 2021, the economic costs of cyber harassment and stalking of women in Europe are estimated to be staggering, ranging between €49 billion and €89.3 billion. The pervasive nature of these issues underscores a broader systemic problem — the digital gender gap —that leaves women particularly vulnerable to online threats.

In response to this, organisations are taking proactive steps to empower young women and safeguard their online presence. A prime example of such efforts is Junior Achievement Malta’s engagement with the Girls Go Circular programme. JA Malta is stepping up to the plate by promoting and taking to schools and local communities this programme, targeting girls aged 14-19 specifically. Created by EIT and funded by the European Union, this initiative not only empowers young girls by enhancing their digital and entrepreneurial competencies but also provides valuable insights into the circular economy.

The need for such initiatives is growing day by day as according to a study by Girlguiding UK, over three-quarters of girls and young women aged 13 to 21 have encountered harmful content online in the past year, ranging from sexist comments to cyberflashing. Disturbingly, online harassment is on the rise, with women being more than twice as likely as men to experience sexual harassment online. Despite the prevalence of such incidents, many cases of online abuse remain unreported, highlighting the urgent need for stronger protections and support mechanisms.

Further, in a comprehensive study by Plan International titled “The Truth Gap; How Misinformation And Disinformation Online Affect The Lives, Learning And Leadership Of Girls And Young Women ” the unspoken impact of the lack of digital skills and public awareness was examined across 33 countries, surveying over 26,000 adolescent girls.

A significant finding was the prevalence of online harassment on social media platforms, where the majority of such incidents occur. The combination of broad social networks and anonymity creates an environment where any post, tweet, or share can attract abuse from creeps, trolls, or stalkers.

The impact of misinformation and disinformation on mental health was found to be extremely profound, with 46% of girls and young women experiencing feelings of sadness, depression, stress, worry, or anxiety due to false information online. Moreover, the research revealed that one in four girls feels less confident to share their views, while one in five has disengaged from politics or current affairs as a result of online falsehoods.

Further insights from The Economist Intelligence Unit and Google’s study across 51 countries shed light on the nature of online violence. The study revealed that 67% of online harassment involves spreading rumours or slander to discredit or damage a woman’s character.

Perhaps most concerning was the lack of education on spotting misinformation and disinformation, as seven out of ten girls surveyed reported never having been taught about these crucial skills either at school or by family members. This knowledge gap leaves them vulnerable to manipulation and exploitation in the digital world.

To address these challenges and promote a safer online environment for girls, concerted efforts are needed on multiple fronts such as raising awareness about the prevalence of online harassment and the importance of digital safety measures, equipping girls with the skills and knowledge to navigate the digital landscape safely and responsibly, advocating for robust legislation and policies that protect children’s digital rights and hold perpetrators of online abuse accountable.

In the meantime, here are some practical tips for all young individuals reading this blog post to enhance your online safety;

Take steps to browse safely and maintain anonymity by using secure browsing tools and being cautious when sharing personal information.

Check your online presence and monitor how much of your personal information is accessible online and take steps to limit exposure. Also, remember to think twice before sharing personal information or engaging in online interactions, especially with strangers!

If you ever find yourself experiencing cyberbullying or harassment, it’s crucial to remember that you’re not alone. Don’t hesitate to step forward and speak up about what you’re going through. Reach out to your parents, guardians, family members, teachers, or any trusted individuals in your life. Sharing your experience with someone you trust can provide you with the support and guidance you need to navigate through such challenging situations. Remember, speaking up is the first step towards reclaiming your online safety and well-being!