Section: 4.1 Intersectionality and misogyny

Intersections with young women and girls

Harassment, online and offline, can start from a very young age.

The State of the World’s Girls 2020 report1 by Plan International surveyed 14,000 girls and young women between the ages of 15 to 25 across 31 countries. Their findings revealed that over half of girls (58%) globally face online harassment, with one in four feeling physically threatened by it. Online harassment starts for girls from the age of eight and the majority of girls get harassed for the first time between the ages of 14 to 16, with 50% of respondents saying that they face more online harassment than street harassment.

The data also highlighted the intersectionality of the abuse, with 37% of girls from ethnic minorities who experienced harassment attributing it to their ethnicity. Similarly, 42% of the LGBTIQ+ girls who faced harassment believed it was due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Recent research from The Open University (Scotland) supports these concerns. Their 2023 survey23 of 7,500 people aged 16 and over – comprising 4,000 women and girls and 3,500 men and boys – revealed the widespread nature of online violence against women and girls across the UK. Specifically, in England, 25% of those aged 16 to 24 reported experiencing such violence, with the percentage rising to 35% among LGBTQI+ women and girls.

In Scotland, online violence affected one in six women, with rates higher among those aged 16 to 24 (27%) and LGBTQI+ women (45%). Across the UK regions, Scotland reported the highest incidence of women and girls witnessing online violence (35%), compared to Wales and Northern Ireland (both 27%) and England (30%). In Scotland, 11% of those who encountered online violence also faced offline violence subsequently.

The survey identified online anonymity (54%), the perceived ease of evading consequences (47%), and misogyny (46%) as the top reasons people commit online violence against women and girls.

In another 2023 survey by Girlguiding UK4, insights from 2,614 girls and young women aged 7 to 21 from England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland paint a picture of their wellbeing and experiences on- and offline. Since 2009, there has been a consistent decline in the happiness levels of these girls and young women. The most significant drop was observed among the youngest group, those aged 7 to 10. A vast majority, 89%, reported feelings of stress, anxiety, or inadequacy, with their concerns spanning from academic pressures to experiences of sexual harassment.

Findings reveal that online spaces have become negative for girls and young women. 81% of respondents aged 11 to 21 faced threatening or distressing behaviour online, marking an increase from 65% in 2018. Those from minority backgrounds, as well as LGBTQ+, neurodiverse, and disabled girls, face higher risks. Specifically, 93% of LGBTQ+ girls, 91% of neurodiverse girls, and 90% of disabled girls aged 11 to 21 have come across harmful online content.

The online experience for girls and young women is deteriorating, with safety becoming a significant worry in both online and offline spaces.

Safety, both online and offline, emerged as a significant concern for respondents. Many girls shared that they felt vulnerable, whether they were outside, at school, or navigating the online world. They recounted hearing unsettling remarks from boys and facing threats in digital spaces. Half of the participants, aged 7 to 21, felt they were belittled or considered unintelligent because of their gender. This sentiment was particularly strong among the seven to 16 age group, with 44% echoing this feeling, a rise from 23% in 2013.4

Respondents also reported hearing sexist remarks from male peers at school and experiencing street harassment while commuting. The instances of online sexist comments have more than doubled since both 2018 and 2013. Certain groups of girls were at a higher risk; specifically, 55% of girls aged 11 to 21 who identify as LGBTQ+ have faced harassment, compared to 42% who don't identify as such. Similarly, 53% of disabled girls have been harassed, in contrast to 43% of those who aren't disabled. Additionally, 52% of those aged 11 to 21 felt that sexist comments weren't taken seriously in educational settings.4

The Girlguiding survey also showed that the online environment offers sexual pressure, including harassment and appearance pressures. 33% of those aged 13 to 21 reported feeling or encountering frequent sexual pressure online, an increase from 16% in 2016. The mental toll of these online interactions is evident. 60% expressed concerns about the detrimental impact of the online world on their mental health. Half of them felt they couldn't freely express their opinions online, 54% felt the looming threat of online abuse, and 41% often grappled with feelings of sadness or depression after spending time online.4

The survey highlighted the emotional impact of these experiences. Many girls, especially those from marginalised groups, spoke about the negative feelings tied to online interactions, ranging from depression to fear of expressing themselves. Three in five girls aged 11 to 21 were worried about how online spaces affect their mental health.4 This concern was even higher among disabled (73%), LGBTQ+ (71%), and neurodiverse (69%) girls.4

The majority of girls and young women aged 11 to 21 (83%) thought more proactive measures were essential to address and curb online sexism and abuse.4

Gap: There is limited research available in New Zealand that focuses on the experiences of girls and young women with online harms, particularly abuse, harassment, misogyny, and violence, and how these experiences impact them.

Further reading

Studies and reports: Intersections with young women and girls


We understand that this research could be confronting or upsetting for some readers. If you or someone you know needs to talk:

  • Free call Women’s Refuge 0800 733 843 for support for women and children experiencing family violence.
  • Visit Netsafe to complete an online form to report any online safety issues or free call 0508 638 723 for support.
  • Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor.
  • Free call Youthline 0800 376 633 or text 234 to talk with someone from a safe and youth-centred organisation.
  • Free call Safe to Talk 0800 044 334 or text 4334 anytime for support about sexual harm.
  • Free call OutLine Aotearoa 0800 688 5463 any evening to talk to trained volunteers from Aotearoa's rainbow communities.