Today girls and adolescents navigate a digital world in which opportunities to learn and train, connect with other people, find forms of entertainment or engage in activism have increased.
However, it is also a place where they are exposed to harmful and discriminatory messages that dictate their behavior, shape their life expectancy and limit their rights. The digital world can quickly go from being an empowering network and a solidarity-building tool to being a limited and dangerous space .
For boys and girls, the online world and the offline world can no longer be easily separated. Life that passes on the Internet and on social networks is also real life. They are integrated into their education, their friendships, their leisure activities and their consumption habits. More than ever in this pandemic, in which our lives moved to the virtual realm. But where were the rights?
The starting situation was not the same for everyone: a first digital divide of devices and a second, of connection, left many boys and girls disconnected; the third gap, digital skills, made it difficult for many others to continue their studies remotely; and a fourth gap, that of security and protection, has exposed girls, adolescents and young women to different forms of violence online.
From cyberbullying to sexting and online trolling . The Internet has become an especially unsafe space for them.
This often leads to responses that push girls away from the digital world and from themselves. Our (In) secure online study shows that 58% of girls and adolescents around the world suffer bullying on social networks.
In Spain, 59% of young women claim to have suffered some form of sexual harassment on the networks, and a large majority of young Spanish women (75%) affirm that they have been harassed by people they know.
Cyberbullying limits the rights and freedoms of girls and adolescents, and represents a barrier to the use of social networks under conditions of equality, because it limits their participation, stops their opinions and silences their voices.
By excluding them from a space that plays a fundamental role in the lives of young people, their potential to become leaders and access more opportunities for the future is also being limited.
Cyberbullying limits the rights of girls and adolescents and limits their participation; silence their voices. Thus, their potential to become leaders and access more future opportunities is also being limited. And this is a human rights issue.
This is not an isolated problem, it is a human rights problem. The root cause of gender-based harassment and violence, regardless of where it occurs, is the inequality and discrimination that girls, adolescents and women face around the world.
And online harassment of girls, adolescents and young people is a form of this gender-based violence: they receive insults, humiliations, ridicule and threats to a greater extent for being women and for being young. They are an easy target for bullies on the Internet .
What is missing from most conversations about regulating the digital world, but underlies the calls to action, is a rights-based approach; taking into account both childhood and gender perspective.
The global computer network was opened to external users two years after the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989, and 12 years after the adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) .
These two human rights frameworks that protect girls and young women – safeguarding their fundamental rights and allowing them to participate in all aspects of their lives – were written at a time when the online world did not exist.
We cannot allow the Internet to remain the lawless city in which the rights of girls and young people are violated on a daily basis.
By 2014, when the Committee on the Rights of the Child held the digital debate on “Children’s Rights in the Digital Age”, it was clear that children’s rights in the online world required more attention.
Among the many recommendations – ranging from regular monitoring of human rights policies and laws to supporting the development of digital skills for girls and boys – the need is also recognized for “intensifying efforts to achieve the effective elimination of all forms of discrimination against girls and combat gender stereotypes and social norms that limit girls’ opportunities to access and use technology ”.
Progress was made beyond access in 2017, when CEDAW adopted a blanket recommendation that explicitly mentions girls and requires states to criminalize and introduce legal sanctions for all forms of gender-based violence in all areas where it occurs. produce –specifically, gender-based violence that constitutes a violation of the physical, sexual or psychological integrity of women and girls–, and also guarantee that survivors of gender-based violence have access to justice.
The Bill of Digital Rights recently published by the Government is an opportunity in this line. It is a document like this that can position Spain at the forefront of the protection of individual and collective rights of people in digital environments, and that is why it must include these approaches to effectively protect all girls and adolescents from the violence living in this environment.
It is essential that it includes virtual violence against girls and women based on gender as a violation of their rights. We cannot allow the Internet to remain the lawless city in which the rights of girls and young women are violated daily.