On the 6th of October 2020 Plan International Malawi appointed Second Lady Mary Chilima as the ambassador against online harassment against girls and young women. The appointment was found to be appropriate as Madam Chilima is an avid user of social media herself. The Second Lady expressed that she too has been a victim of online violence and so she understands the importance of having respectful and appropriate communication on social platforms. Online gender-based violence does exist in the same context as that in real life and the effects are just as destructive. The greatest impact that online violence has is that women are experiencing self-censorship and it was reported that women have been left to deal with the repercussions of this violence on their own. It has become evident that there is a need to raise awareness around the harassment that takes place on social media. Cyberbullying is a trend that has escalated over the years and has intensified with a number of unknown users posting rude comments especially against women. According to the Plan International landmark survey, it has been found that attacks are most common on Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp. Although these attacks are not physical, they threaten and limit girl’s freedom of expression which in turn drives girls off of these online platforms and therefore it is important for us to have a fellow woman fight for the rights that we have been robbed of, a woman who understands the importance of protecting each other from cyberbullying and online violence.
As the coronavirus pandemic deepened economic stress, it also had an effect on the level of domestic violence that already takes place through both physical and online facilitated means. Women that have access to the internet have become targets for online abuse, for example, human rights defenders, journalists, women in politics and women belonging to ethnic minorities. When these women are forced into self-censorship then the fundamental right to freedom of information is threatened. Due to the quarantine measures that the covid pandemic has forced us to adhere to, there has been an increase in internet usage and because of this there has also been an increase in the level of online abuse and bullying.
Peer-to-peer online violence against women and girls has intensified resulting in a loss of self-esteem, panic attacks and a sense of powerlessness among these women as they have been silenced and cannot respond to the abuse. Throughout covid more women have been stepping out and fighting for their right to freedom of expression, however this has also made them a target for bullying and cyberstalking. There has been an increase in attacks on feminist websites and social media pages, several women have experienced threatening messages, sexual harassment and the sharing of private pictures without their consent. Facilitating workshops and raising awareness on protection tools is of paramount importance and having an ambassador that is dedicated to that cause is the first of many moves towards creating a safe online space.