The 2021 State of the World’s Girls report by Plan Malawi shows that misinformation and disinformation on the Internet is leaving girls in Malawi troubled and feeling unsafe.
The report based on a survey of 1 041 girls in the country shows that when some people post nude pictures, the images leave girls feeling degraded and depressed.
The girls, 45 percent of them from the Southern Region, 40 percent from the Centre and 15 percent from the Northern Region, also talked about misinformation and disinformation on Covid-19 as having an impact on their health and wellbeing.
In interviews yesterday, various experts said cyber bullying has real life consequences on young people’s lives; hence, called for efforts to deal with the problem.
This year, the report, The Truth Gap, explores how adolescent girls and young women in Malawi engage with political, civic or social topics online and in particular how they deal with misinformation and disinformation.
The girls said the topic that most girls and young women have seen misinformation and disinformation on is Covid-19.
Plan Malawi country director Phoebe Kasoga said in a statement on Monday, Internet shapes girls’ opinions about themselves, the issues they care about and the world around them.
“Our research makes clear that the spread of false information online has real life consequences. It is dangerous, it affects girls’ mental health, and it’s yet another thing holding them back from engaging in public life,” she said.
Kasoga said every day, girls and young women are bombarded online with lies and stereotypes about their bodies, who they are and how they should behave.
“Images and videos are manipulated to objectify and shame them. Rumours are spread as a form of abuse. And girls have very real fears that fake events and profiles will lure and trick them into danger offline,” she said.
In a separate interview yesterday, Bram Fudzulani, President of the ICT Association of Malawi, said girls and young women need to be empowered to understand their rights.
He said: “It’s an issue to do with civic education. We need to engage the girls and young women so that they understand the law and powers given to them.”
National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera said together with Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority, the law enforcement agency has been sensitising the general public on cyberbullying.
“Most of those affected are girls in boarding schools, and as police, we have been carrying out sensitisation programmes on radio stations so that messages go across the country,” he said.
In his reaction, Civil Society Education Coalition executive director Benedicto Kondowe said concerted efforts are needed to deal with cyberbullying.
Plan Malawi last year unveiled the Second Lady Mary Chilima, spouse to Vice-President Saulos Chilima, as the institution’s ambassador against online harassment.
After being unveiled, Chilima said she was on social media and understood the impact of cyberbullying. She said she has been a victim of cyberbullying herself.
She said: “Even as an adult, you still get shaken by cyberbullying and harassment. Let’s collectively protect each other from cyberbullying and violence.”