This International Women's Day is a great time for us to reflect on the progress made towards gender equality, but also to acknowledge the work that still needs to be done. One area where change is still desperately needed is online, where girls face a disproportionate amount of abuse and harassment. This abuse can have a devastating impact on the mental health and wellbeing of those who experience it.
That's why the "Respected and Safe Online” Project, developed and delivered by Cybersafe Scotland, in partnership with Aberdeen City Council, is so important. This week has seen the launch of lessons for P6 and P7 pupils as part of the project. These lessons have been created in direct response to incidents shared by girls from local schools, and have been designed to reduce online abuse and harassment for all children.
The innovative project has been funded by the Scottish Government through the Delivering Equally Safe Fund. The project is being delivered in nine primary schools in Aberdeen this year, and helps to support more than 2,000 families.
Research has consistently shown that girls and young women are disproportionately affected by online abuse and harassment. Girls and young women are more than twice as likely to be sexually harassed online, and girls are more likely than boys to be targets of cyberbullying.
There are a number of reasons why girls and women are more vulnerable to online abuse. The prevalence of gender stereotypes and misogyny in online spaces means that girls are often subjected to sexist and degrading comments, and are frequently the targets of online harassment campaigns. In addition, girls are often pressured to conform to narrow beauty standards and are judged based on their appearance, which can lead to body shaming and other forms of online abuse.
The lessons that Cybersafe Scotland have created are designed to address these issues and provide girls with the tools they need to stay safe online. The lessons cover a range of topics, including challenging situations, behaviour, content, privacy, cyberbullying, and gender stereotypes. They also provide guidance on how to report online abuse and harassment, and how to seek help and support if needed.
One of the key messages of the lessons is that online abuse and harassment are not the fault of the victim. Girls are often blamed for the abuse they receive online, with people suggesting that they should simply "ignore" or "block" their abusers. However, this approach does not address the root causes of the problem, and can make children feel even more isolated and helpless.
Instead, the project and the lessons emphasise the importance of standing up to incidents of abuse as a community and creating meaningful change and a culture of respect and empathy online.
Cybersafe Scotland Founder, Annabel Turner, said “It is a privilege for Cybersafe to have been given the opportunity to develop this important work in Aberdeen, and we are so grateful to all the schools and the children we are working with on the project for working with us so closely.”
“We are also grateful to friends, especially RGU, who are giving their time and expertise to support these lessons.”
""Respected and Safe Online" is an important step towards creating a safer and more inclusive online environment for girls and all children online. By providing children with the knowledge and skills they need, and by promoting a culture of respect and empathy, we can help to reduce the incidence of online abuse and harassment, and ensure that all children can fully participate in the digital world without fear of violence or discrimination."
In addition to the lessons themselves, the project is also providing support to families and educators. Parents and caregivers are often unsure of how to help their children navigate the online world, and may not be aware of the risks and challenges that their children may face. The project provides resources and guidance to help parents and caregivers talk to their children about online safety, and to ensure that they are equipped to provide the support and guidance their children need.
Educators are also being provided with training and resources to help them support learners effectively. Online child protection is a fast changing area and the project enables teachers and non-teaching staff to receive on the most up to date concerns as well as on how to create a safe and inclusive classroom environment, and how to address sensitive topics such as online abuse and harassment in a way that is age-appropriate and respectful.
Annabel added “the lessons are not just about protecting girls from harm. They are also about empowering them to become active participants in the online world. By teaching all children how to use the internet responsibly and respectfully, but also by teaching them how to respond if they are disrespected, and by basing all that teaching on their lived experiences, we can help them to make the most of the opportunities that their digital world has to offer.”