October 11, 2023


By 2023 Diana Award recipient, Sofia Scarlat from Romania

International Day of the Girl Child is celebrated globally on the 18th October as a day to come together and celebrate the power and potential of girls across the world. This year, to mark this day, we asked 2023 Diana Award recipient Sofia Scarlat to explain why this day is so important, focusing on the broader theme of digital empowerment.

International Day of the Girl Child (IDGC) is a crucial moment where we remember both the power and potential of girls across the globe, in all their diversity, as well as the challenges that they continue to face in pursuit of full ownership of that power and potential. It is a moment of reflection amid programming and collaboration efforts: a time for us to regroup, reassess, better understand new perspectives on our work and impact, and decide on the next steps together.

This year’s IDGC is particularly important from this standpoint. The theme, ‘Digital Generation. Our Generation” aims to provide a platform for the global community to better understand the disadvantages girls face online. It entails extensive investigation and discussion on how offline gender inequality, gender-based violence and harassment translate into online spaces, and how we are failing girls through lack of policy, regulations, and education.  

The theme comes after a series of alarming reports published by international organisations and civil society, raising alarm bells around the state of girls’ safety online. According to the Web Foundation, founded by the inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, half of young women and girls have experienced online abuse, including threatening messages, sexual harassment and the sharing of private photos and videos without permission. Another study carried out by Plan International, which surveyed fourteen thousand girls from across the globe, reaffirms this number and states that the abuses experienced by the girls forced them to exit social media and left them "traumatized." The Web Foundation also highlights that 87% of young women surveyed think the problem is getting worse.

Such statistics paint a very grim picture. On the internet, girls face discrimination and violence based on their gender and age, but also due to other intersecting identities and experiences such as being a part of the LGBTQ+ community, identifying as BIPOC, disabled, belonging to a religious minority, and so on.  

Sofia campaigning in Romania

According to UN Women, this digital violence that girls face can lead to alarming social, reproductive health, and psychological effects, such as “higher levels of anxiety, stress disorders, depression, trauma, panic attacks, loss of self-esteem and a sense of powerlessness in their ability to respond to the abuse.”

This form of violence further contributes to the marginalisation of already vulnerable communities which had initially come to the internet in search of safe spaces, community, connection, support, and information that is otherwise not available to them. Girls have shared testimonies of utilising the internet and online communities to learn more about themselves and to share their opinions – ultimately, they are coming to the internet to seek empowerment and to become more certain of themselves and their power in the world. However, the pursuit of strength and a voice, especially for girls who are not given a platform within their communities is quickly shut down by physical threats, body shaming, and sexual and racial harassment that await them online.  

Sofia working on campaign banners

Particularly in a post-pandemic world, girls need to face no obstacles in being connected to the internet. Even though the WHO has declared the COVID-19 global health emergency as being officially over, the classroom, and our ways of learning and educating children, have been forever changed. More and more schooling methods rely on online platforms for various classes and skill-teaching. At the same time, the pandemic has put girls’ education at risk, making them more vulnerable to dropping out, child marriage, early pregnancy, exploitation for child labour, and GBV. UNESCO has estimated that 11 million girls may never return to school for these reasons.  

The IDGC theme for this year is crucial, then, in this context, because it understands that the problem could not be more urgent. Girls need digital spaces to feel seen and heard, to access resources and information their community has stigmatised or refused to offer and, most pressingly, because they need to access their right to education. Providing them safe and equal access to the online world is not something that is up for debate – it should be at the forefront of our concerns as advocates. The only thing that we now need to discuss is how we are going to accomplish this for them, and how we are going to do it as quickly and sustainably as possible.


  1. Advocate for strong online safety laws across the globe. One of the major obstacles that we are facing today in this crisis is the lack of protective measures in place to both prevent and seek justice in cases of online violence. Legislation in many countries across the globe has yet to catch up with technological advances, leaving victims of online violence with nowhere to go. We must mobilise our efforts as advocates and organisations to push for effective, strong, and concrete online safety laws, including laws against revenge pornography.
  1. Push for change in social media platforms’ reporting mechanisms. The first step for many girls who face online violence is to report the harassment to the social media platforms which they are utilising. However, many of them feel completely underserved by these platforms as the reporting mechanisms often fail – both in terms of prevention and in terms of assisting victims. Advocates, organisations, and lawmakers must all fight for stronger and more transparent reporting mechanisms on such platforms.  
  1. Take measures to protect our safety online. The issue of online violence is a systemic and global one, which will only be solved with systemic and global solutions. However, it is also important for all of us to be aware of ways in which we can protect ourselves from digital violence, data breaches, and other potential vulnerabilities online. These methods include using strong passwords, not using public WiFi networks for sensitive tasks like logging into your bank accounts, using browser add-ons like Privacy Badger to block invisible trackers, using two-factor authentication, and more.
  1. Educate our communities and equip them with resources for support. It is all of our duties to speak to our communities and explain both the dangers and the benefits of online spaces. We cannot remove ourselves from them, as so much of our lives are now online; but we can have comprehensive discussions with those around us on what online lives entail and where we can seek guidance and support. Locally, we can compile lists of resources such as counselling and other forms of psychological support for those who have been victims of online violence, as well as organising events and community workshops on digital safety and literacy.


If you would like to hear more from Sofia on the topic of Digital Empowerment, take a look at her panel discussion with the United Nations that took place earlier this year here.  

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