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The Dangers and Opportunities of Girls in Cyberspace

By Wayan Vota on August 2, 2010

Girls in Cyberspace: Dangers and Opportunities” (PDF) from Plan USA examines both the challenges and empowering possibilities facing girls when accessing ICTs (Information Communication Technologies). In many ways, technology has facilitated girls’ ability to do what they were already doing: connecting, learning and sharing. ICTs have also increased their opportunities to do these things and to interact beyond their immediate communities.

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Although adolescent girls are not a homogeneous group, and the way they choose to interact with ICTs may vary according to their location, social-economic status, capacity for mobility and personal inclination, there are some common threads emerging from Plan’s analysis.

ICTs can have an empowering effect on girls as they go through puberty: ICTs have exposed adolescent girls to new ideas and ways of thinking that open up possibilities for learning, networking, campaigning and personal development. Overall, the skills that adolescent girls can develop through and with ICTs build their resilience, allowing them to mitigate some of the challenges posed by puberty. This gradual process is shown in the following diagram:

girls-cyberspace.jpg

At the same time, ICTs can also have negative consequences as they increasingly provide strangers with access to a girl’s personal space and allow for exploitative practices that can harm girls in faster and more immediate ways than ever before. On-line patterns of behaviour are a reflection of the way that society operates off-line. This paper will examine how attitudes towards empowerment and the abuse of adolescent girls reveal themselves through technology.

I was not computer literate when I started using Internet on my mobile phone, so it was quite an eye opener. Now I want to learn everything; my uncle bought a computer two months ago, and his wife has been teaching me some basics.
– Patience, a young refugee from Zimbabwe, living in South Africa16

Based on original research undertaken in Brazil by Plan for the 2010 “Because I am a Girl” report (together with the Child Protection Partnership), this paper will outline the opportunities ICTs provide adolescent girls and analyze the potential dangers and exploitative behaviours that are facilitated through them.

To conclude, we draw out the main policy recommendations for and with adolescent girls to make cyberspace safer. Greater knowledge about ICT-related sexual exploitation and violence against girls is needed, and more emphasis on prevention and stronger international standards is critical. We call on various sectors to do more to protect girls on-line and to ensure girls have the capacity and knowledge to protect themselves and each other.

Adolescent girls must be empowered to use the Internet and other communications technologies safely, on their own terms and in ways that promote their overall development and build their future possibilities.

This post is an adaptation of the Girls in Cyberspace report executive summary

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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks and is the Digital Health Director at IntraHealth International. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of IntraHealth International or other ICTWorks sponsors.
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