During her role, Hannah has helped on the #SheSurfsFreedom Survey, as part of WAGGGS’ 16 Days of Activism campaign, and hopes to share with our young members the importance of being safe and feeling empowered online.
After many years of holding different advocacy roles within Girlguiding UK and Girlguiding Scotland, in December 2022 I was privileged to take on a brand-new challenge as a World Association for Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) Global Advocacy Champion (GAC) representing Girlguiding Scotland and UK.
The WAGGGS Global Advocacy Network is made up of 20 young women from across the world who advocate for the rights of girls and young women, champion gender equality and shape global policies on women’s rights.
The main opportunity for GACs to influence global policymaking is by representing WAGGGS at the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). The CSW is an international forum which creates and influences policies on the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls around the world. Every March, the CSW brings together representatives from UN Member States and civil society organisations – like WAGGGS – at the UN Headquarters in New York to discuss the world’s progress in achieving gender equality.
Each year, there is a priority theme for representatives to discuss and negotiate “agreed conclusions” for them all to commit to and fulfil. This year’s was “Innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls”.
That’s where we came in.
In addition to writing various advocacy documents to influence decision-makers, WAGGGS sent four GACs to New York so they could meet with decision-makers and highlight the results of WAGGGS’s #SheSurfsFreedom Survey which gathered the voices of over 1,000 girls across the world.
According to the survey results, 50% of girls and women said they spend over 4 hours of their lives online a day meaning it’s crucial that the online environment is one we can feel safe in. Unfortunately, two-thirds (66%) of respondents said they had seen and received unwanted sexual or violent content that made them uncomfortable. One teenage girl from Malaysia told us she began receiving sexual comments from older men as soon as she got her first Instagram account at age 13.
The survey highlighted girls’ experiences of being sexualised, threatened, bullied and scarred by sexual and/or violent content online. For many girls, these forms of online gender-based violence have become normalised. Decision-makers within Scottish Parliament or Westminster have not done enough to tackle the issue, instead handing responsibility to change over to the girls impacted by this violence. We heard that girls are being forced to change their behaviour online to try keep themselves safe and mentally well.
Although I wasn’t in New York, I still contributed to this advocacy by inviting two influential Members of the UK Parliament; Alison Thewliss MP for Glasgow Central and Caroline Nokes MP who is also Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee in Westminster. I was really grateful to both for attending and supporting our policy asks.
By the end of the CSW, we were all very proud of what we achieved as a group. We are now focused on ensuring national governments implement what they committed to during the negotiations.
In this country, there is an important opportunity to ensure that the Online Safety Bill addresses the negative experiences girls and women described in the #SheSurfsFreedom Survey. Join girls across the world by sharing your experiences through the survey or by sharing the #SheSurfsFreedom campaign with your friends and community, and hope that more girls and young women across Scotland feel supported and empowered online.
Applications for the 2023-2024 WAGGGS Global Advocacy Champions are open from the 10 October until 5 November. If you are aged 18 – 30, committed to gender equality and want to represent women and influence those in positions of power globally, then apply now.