Mariel Alison L. Aguinaldo
Seven out of ten Filipinas have been victims of online harassment, according to The State of the World’s Girls Report 2020, a study by Plan International, a development and humanitarian organization for the advancement of children’s rights and equality for girls.
Most of them were harassed between 15 to 20 years of age. Girls with intersecting characteristics, meaning those that have a disability, belong to an ethnic minority, or identify as LGBTIQ+, are more prone to such attacks. However, 36% do not report these cases and choose to ignore their harasser.
“Although there are findings that they … become more resilient at protecting themselves as they experience the harassment, usually their responses would be to change their own behavior—increasing their privacy settings, or decreasing their social media engagement—instead of really tackling the harassment experience itself, which is quite harmful,” said Mona Mariano, country gender specialist for Plan International, during the report’s launch on October 11.
Globally, 58% percent of girls have experienced harassment on social media platforms. Of this percentage, 85% said that they experienced multiple types of harassment. This includes abusive and insulting language, purposeful embarrassment, body-shaming, and threats of sexual violence.
According to Plan International, online harassment falls under two categories. First, girls are harassed simply for being girls and being online. Most of these attacks constitute unauthorized acquisition and sharing of information; discrimination based on race, ethnicity, disability, and sexuality; and sexual objectification.
“I have a (female) friend, who often receives hate comments and whose posts were being talked about in other group chats regardless of what she posted or shared online. She was being attacked because of how she dresses and because she always puts make-up on,” reads a testimony from a 17-year-old Filipino respondent in the report.
Second, girls experience online harassment for being outspoken, with 47% saying that they have been attacked for expressing their opinions. This is especially apparent on gender equality issues such as abortion and street harassment.
As a result, 42% of girls experienced mental or emotional stress or a lowering of their self-esteem. Twenty-four percent have reported feeling physically unsafe. “Online harassment … is as frightening as face-to-face harassment. It actually limits their freedom to speak and to participate,” said Ms. Mariano.
Based on these findings, Plan International has drafted recommendations for the protection of girls from online harassment and punishment of their harassers. These include the updating of international frameworks on children’s rights and child protection to consider online harassment, the publication of data from social media companies in order for organizations to get the scope of the problem more accurately, and the enactment of laws that will hold harassers accountable for their actions.
Various organizations in the country are also implementing and planning measures against violence against women. Maria Kristine Josefina G. Balmes, deputy executive director for operations at the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW), shared how they helped push the Safe Spaces Act last year, which prescribes penalties for gender-based sexual harassment in physical and online spaces.
Genalyn Macalinao, policy lead of the CyberSecurity Bureau at the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), said that the agency aims to release a department order with provisions on child online protection for internet service providers and other stakeholders within the year.
With these efforts, Plan International hopes that the root of harassment, whether online or offline, will be eradicated.
“Girls and young women are not free to be online … online harassment is a continuation of the threats that are happening to girls and young women in many spaces, but only in a different space,” said Ms. Mariano.
The State of the World’s Girls Report is a series of annual reports by Plan International which examines the rights of girls across various stages in their lives. The 2020 study analyzed qualitative and quantitative data from 14,000 girls and young women in 31 countries across the Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia.