Girl-led activism in the Asia-Pacific region has become a necessary force for gender equality –especially in online spaces – according to a new report by Plan International.
As we mark the beginning of 16 Days of Activism, a global campaign to end violence against women and girls, Plan International Australia’s youth activists are calling for greater regulation of online platforms by the Australian Government to ensure girls and young women in all their diversity are protected from harassment, abuse, misogyny and dangerous misinformation, as well as for greater protection of their online data.
The activists are also calling on the Government to give young people a seat at the table in developing the Online Privacy Code and other regulations and safety mechanisms that protect children and young people.
The 2021 Asia-Pacific Girls Report presents the region’s state of girls’ and young women’s leadership, this year including the Pacific region and Australia.
The analysis underscores that girls and young women are working tirelessly to ensure gender-transformative change and social inclusion.
Across the region, social and cultural norms continue to contribute to gender inequality and the lack of opportunity, yet in the wake of COVID-19 and the ongoing restrictions of movement, the report found it is digital media fuelling girls’ activism.
The research highlighted that girls and young women in Australia and the region are mobilising in both invited and claimed online spaces at local, national and international levels and raising awareness of the issues that affect them. Through social media content such as stories, memes and short films; community campaigns and petitions that can influence government legislation, to ground-breaking apps that combat street harassment and abuse – young activists are using a wide range of online mediums to drive change.
“Young activists from Australia and all around the region are using WhatsApp and Facebook groups and pages to mobilise youth through ‘social influencers’, recruit volunteers for campaigns, organise petitions and collate testimonies – such as the Teach Us Consent and Enough is Enough petition to end misogyny in politics – and share instructional templates for organising rallies and events,” said Plan International Australia CEO Susanne Legena.
However, there is an urgent and critical need to regulate social media companies.
Plan International Australia’s Future Online and The Truth Gap reports earlier this year highlight the ways in which girls and young women in all their diversities face harassment and misinformation online and the significant and long-lasting impacts this has on their well-being.
“As more elements of our lives and workplaces transition online, we are in the ever-present need for more regulations, knowledge, education and action to ensure the internet is a safe place… We have to be proactive and not reactive when it comes to the safety of our young people and particularly women and girls,” said Margaret, a youth activist with Plan International Australia.
Plan International Australia welcomes and supports the Attorney General’s move to improve online privacy for children through the drafting of the Government’s new Online Privacy Bill – a bill which will grant the Information Commissioner the power to begin drafting an Online Privacy Code to help limit the amount of data companies collect on young people and ensure it is only used in their best interest.
But it has also flagged some some significant problems with the draft legislation.
Worryingly, there is a danger that social media companies themselves will have the power to draft the Online Privacy Code. This means social media companies could be drafting a code to regulate themselves.
“We know the risks associated with this,” said Ms Legena.
“Social media companies have been slow to act to make their platforms safe spaces for children and young people despite pressure from government and the community. In the end, they’re driven by profits not the best interests of children and young people. ”
Further, there is nothing in the Bill that requires children and young people to be consulted in the drafting of the Online Privacy Code.
“If children’s best interests and rights are to be protected by this Code then it is critical that the voices of children and young people inform and guide the development of the Code. Children and young people must have a seat at the table,” added Ms Legena.
Children and young people under 18 must be given the right to participate in the development of the Code, along with any reviews of it and its ongoing operation.
“As someone working with and for young people – and as a mother myself – I understand how intrinsic social media has become to our lives – particularly since the pandemic thrust all of us online, whether for work, education or social interaction.
“The protection, privacy and safety of children and especially girls on social media platforms must be a priority for all of us,” said Ms Legena.