A CSW62 Parallel Side Event - Attended by SI North Shore New Zealand Member and CSW62 Scholarship Winner Sylvia Heywood.

13 March 2018


This side event was the first one I attended that included social media and how our gender affects our experience of the modern world. The concept note advised that the session will consider the complexity of identity, sexuality, age and social media and how social norms influence our behaviours and expectations as well as possibilities in our lives and it did live up to expectation.

The panellists included: Karen Ellemann, Minister for Equal Opportunities, Denmark; Susan Williams Baroness Williams of Trafford, United Kingdom, Minister for Equalities; Christian Mogensen, Centre for Digital youth Care; and Liam Hackett, Founder of pro-equality and anti-bullying charity Ditch the Label.

Put plainly social norms determine the choices we make and our identity and sexuality for both girls and boys. Evidently, social media platforms play a decisive role in young people’s world by creating new ways of expressing identity and sexuality. Therefore, social media can provide opportunity, but also can be a means to reinforce stereotypes and create double standards as to how people of different genders should behave.

In this session we were asked to consider the complexity of identity, sexuality, age and social media and how social norms influence our behaviours and expectations as well as possibilities in our lives. We were advised that social norms determine the choices of identity and sexuality for both girls and boys and that social media platforms play a decisive role in young people’s world by creating new ways of expressing identify and sexuality. Therefore, social media can be a window of opportunity, but also be a means to reinforce stereotypes and create double standards as to how people of different genders should behave.

Karen Ellemann told us that both the Danish and UK Governments have taken actions to empower young people and promote gender and LGBT equality using evidence from the UK National LGBT equality survey and the Danish study on young people’s perceptions of gender, sexuality and body image in the digital age. She gave us an example of the evidence from the Danish Longitudinal survey of children that confirms that gendered body images have a profound impact on boys and girls and that double standards influence the wellbeing of young people.

We were shown a short video that had been aired where a young woman is asked about her exams and her boyfriend reacts in a controlling manner. The video is a Danish Government campaign and ran at the end of last year and beginning of this year. From my point of view it clearly showed that the behaviour of the boyfriend was controlling and it serves to promote that this type of behaviour is not acceptable.

A photograph of a young child was placed on screen and Karen asked us if this was a picture of a boy or a girl picture?

Sylvia Heywood image from parallel event

Some people said a boy and others said a girl. Karen went on to tell us that our social norms tells us if this is a boy or a girl.  She said this tells us how the unconscious bias works in terms of what is female and what is male. When we stereotype girls and boys we define what is normal and limit this space for boys and girls to limit their potential.  It is part of our cultural background.


Karen went on to tell us that the world is opening up to new opportunities, women are being judged on what they can do not what people think they can do. However, they face a backlash on line in social media and that is disturbing. She explained that we need to understand how identify and gender interacts because we need to discuss how we balance social media and then the consequences of the same. Young boys and girls are still being judged in a particular way.

Karen talked about girls suffering in terms of sexually as they are more likely to have anxiety and tend to be dissatisfied with their bodies. How do we tell them they are free to explore their dreams if identity is questionable from on and off line experiences.  

Denmark has taken steps to help secure young people on line, enforced legislation and strengthened legislation Police now have capability to arrest young people for sharing nude photos. Denmark has also introduced codes of conduct in the high schools. Many young people do not know how to behave on and off line. I thought this was a very encouraging move by the Denmark Government and believe it is something other Governments should also consider.

Next we heard from Susan Williams who spoke about gender norms which she believed seem to be rigid in society and that in the UK there was a 36% gender pay gap which also contributed to gender norms. She reported that sexism affects girls’ lives by as much as 60%. 

Susan also mentioned that the media frequently portrays women in a particular way. Usually defined in very narrow roles. Firmly paced in the domestic sphere, talking about cleaning and housework and of course the female sex object.  

She reported that 11-16 year old girls spend a minimum of 4.5 hours on line a day and that increased exposure to images of beauty lead to body disorders and eating issues. Young girls self-monitor and self-improve under the intention to make themselves perfect. The UK Government has developed an extensive body image campaign to tackle this issue. In the UK the Equality Act 2010 legally protects people from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society and has been in place for 8 years. However, in the UK in 2014 young 14-16 year old LGTB girls were bullied compared to their peers. Bullying blightens their education and their health we know this as transgender children are more likely to self harm. This is totally unacceptable and that is why we took action providing a £3 million programme to address LGTB bullying. Susan said it was particularly important for schools to manage their own digital social media access inside schools. The Government provided help to schools in the form of a published online survey to collect information. The survey received over 100,000 responses and they are currently analysing those responses. The survey so far reports that girls say fear of abuse on line makes them less able to share their views.  The UK Government commissioned a review to make sure they have the legislation to tackle those who bully others. The findings from this review are now documented in ‘Preventing and Tackling Bullying’ in July 2017 and has been produced to help schools take action to prevent and respond to bullying as part of their overall behaviour policy and includes legal obligations and the powers schools have to tackle bullying. The UK Government is also funding programmes to help girls consider STEM type subjects which is another way they are looking at changing gender norms. However, Susan stressed that we do need to change the way we tackle gender stereo types. Liam Hackett told us that he is working with young people on anti-bullying. Liam said that Identity is extremely important to young people. 

Liam had data that showed children as young as 13 years are now considering invasive plastic surgery. Analysis of 19 million tweets 15 million tweet authored by other women to women. Objecting their norms on other women.  Essential ‘Ditch the Label’ addresses these issues in the digital world. 

Liam provided further online data that he had collected: 


  • Facebook and Instagram are designed to make us post on them. When young people get likes they are 50% more confident 19% feel they are more likeable, 25% feel they are funnier and 8% are more aggressive.

  • 67% of young people to some extent feel that online popularity is important.

  • 46% say that real life is exclusively things that happen offline. 


    From the Annual Bullying Survey 2017 Liam told us that males also face challenging toxic masculinity. Analysis of 19 million tweets over a 4 year period told us:


  • 32% of behavioural references referred to violence.

  • 30% referred to stoicism.

  • Homophobic slurs are commonly used to target non-conformity.

  • Facial Hair and muscles most commonly used to describe a masculine appearance.

Liam also talked a little about global work with Axe/Lynx to redefine what it means to be masculine.


The internet provides people with other communities to share similarities and Liam was proud to present ‘Ditch the Label’.  Each month it helps up to 50,000 young people. Thousands of resources and support guides are available. He is passionate about combating real social change and challenging toxic gender stereo types in games.

Another expert Christian Mogensen, talked about the tasks we need for every day in education as we say today ‘Hit Me Up’. He explained that since 2004 they have been advocating on digital help lines usually peer to peer but in harsh situations they step in and help out. We are tasked with the Danish way of parenting, bringing up kids in a very open sexual community and attitude where everything should be okay, yet they have just had the largest case of child pornography by children and a rise in digital attacks to women and girls. 

Christian said that parents and professionals are very concerned with facebook it is a default of the media. Facebook is out now as a communication platform for children as soon as parents infested it. Facebook was about who I am up until a couple of years ago, it’s not now. Social media can make you do things because you want likes. He said that as a teenager you have to put stuff on Facebook at least twice a week otherwise you won’t be liked.

Girls will be girls, girl fight works very well on social media. Young women and girls have higher expectations on social media which makes them more vulnerable. Girls are less resilient than boys, girls are attacked in Denmark because of their femininity socially.  Young people send naked pictures to one another the up to 12% of 12-15 year send a naked picture and 15-25 year olds 19% estimated at +80%.

Christian told us that more and more girls send naked pictures to their boyfriends (usually full frontal including their face) because they think they are the only ones not doing it. Girls believe their boyfriend will not share it. Girls will send naked pictures young boys take a more local picture (of body parts) so as not to be identified. Because boys’ pictures are more local when shared he can disown it. But girls take a naked picture and then they are asked why they did it what were they expecting would happen when they sent it. If they try to get help they are already lost because they should not be taking these pictures.

Christian believes that the mind key concerns with the young generation should not be the aggressive antagonisation of the young female sexuality. The weaponisation of wrong sexualities as fun is bullying, it’s a prank don’t be a bore, is very, very, dangerous.

Parents need to acknowledge that young adults are adults in training. Boys will be boys stop apologizing. Digital abuse of behaviour is not right. Parents need to lead the conversation and talk about education to empower them, to partake in the discussion about adult digital media.



  • Pornography – boys as young as 11 years are watching very violent porn. Would you consider limiting the distribution of porn?

  • How harmful is this to the democratic situation. Young girls fear doing things because of the comeback, moderate the discussion on line?

  • Why don’t we ban pornography?


Both the Denmark and UK Ministers said that porn is definitely something that is very worrying but they would not make it illegal, they said we are all educated human beings!

Susan the Minister from the UK told us that Facebook is designed to promote people’s insecurities. Peoples doubts are exacerbated, body image etc., influenced by people who live in an unreal world. She agreed with the Karen the Denmark Minister about education to help children deal with respecting themselves being taught about bullying and being bullied into not liking themselves and a pressure there that should not exist.  Being wired to be different, are we all competing for the hierarchy? No, because we are all comfortable in our own skin.

Christian also believes that education is the way to go and when he is talking to young people he asks them about their Instagram and the key message/pictures. He shows his pictures from his Instagram account and explains why he uploaded the picture and then asks the young people why they uploaded their picture and then they narrow it down to, I can do something, etc.

Christian said that young people need to learn that Instagram is not real life, that everyone looks amazing every day because no one will post a photo where they don’t look amazing. He called it psychological rubbish. He also said he would never prevent anyone accessing porn on line because it would be impossible, parents have been trying to do this since porn began.  Christian’s advice was that parents can use porn to show both boys and girls from the age of 10 years upwards how this is not sex, not practiced in a loving relationship.

Christian told us that most images on social media are going to be edited and changed. Body dysmorphia is a mental illness involving obsessive focus on a perceived flaw in appearance. Christian talks to children who benchmark others as aspirational on Instagram and he encourages the children to consider unfriending them. Social media is very manipulative, we need to be more honest on social media, people’s lives look much more positive on line because they don’t talk about negative. He added that an alarming number of young people want to be youtube stars and believe they can make instant hits. We at ‘Ditch the Label’ provide space for young people to talk about this.

I came away from this session feeling that there are very positive structures and policies that can be put in place to protect our children to develop into socially responsible adults.  It is up to all of us to ensure that our societies offer online and offline spaces for young people to express themselves and share their experiences without fear of being harassed, stigmatized or disadvantaged.





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