Social networks occupy an important place in the daily life of girls and young women. Indeed, social networks are spaces that allow girls and women to communicate, find information, have fun and interact with their loved ones in order to strengthen their skills. They are a simple, effective and less expensive way to communicate, and most young people, especially in urban areas, spend a lot of time on them.
As Chimène says: “I use social networks almost every day, two hours a day. Although it is an indispensable tool for communication, learning and growth, social networks are also a means by which malicious individuals can harm and prejudice young girls, preventing them from showing leadership and fully enjoying their online freedom especially on Facebook and WhatsApp.”
20-year-old Chimène is a member of Plan International’s Girls Out Loud group in Benin which provides girls with a safe online space to openly discuss issues relevant to them. The insights gained from these discussions are used to find solutions to the problems they face and support them to become leaders on these issues, in their communities and beyond.
“Social networks allow me to have information (I am a journalist) to exchange with my family and friends and to distract me too. The Internet is very important to me. One day, a stranger, a friend on Facebook called me via Facebook. I hadn’t checked and it was a video call that I accepted. He was masturbating in front of the camera. I got scared and cut off the call. After that, I unfriended him. Online sexual assault creates fear and psychological distress in girls and young women,” explains Chimène.
In relation to false information online, girls are not spared. She explains, “I saw a posting one day that asked for the number of anyone who wanted to apply for a certain job. I left my number. A few days later, I found myself in a WhatsApp sex group. I would have to give my body in exchange for sex. I withdrew, but I was traumatised for a long time.”
Misinformation and false information has a huge impact on girls. According to Chimène, “some girls and young women have seizures because they have received false information that they believed. It is urgent to take specific measures for the safety of girls.”
We need to eradicate this phenomenon, says Chimene, “it is important and urgent to teach digital literacy to girls, because digital skills can eliminate these evils. A lack of digital literacy is at the root of misinformation which must stop.”
Chimene invites all young people to become more digitally aware and believes that “being digitally literate will lead to a healthy and peaceful life on the Internet. All information should be verified before being put up on the web.”