Earlier this year, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan shot to stardom as Devi Vishwakumar in Mindy Kaling’s Netflix series Never Have I Ever. Now, the 18-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., is using her platform to bring awareness to girls’ rights and gender equality as Plan International Canada’s newest Global Celebrated Ambassador.
Ramakrishnan told Yahoo Canada her first memory of Plan International Canada is seeing representatives in malls and she was particularly struck by first learning about child marriage as a 10-year-old through the company’s informational outreach.
“I, as a 10-year-old, was really taken aback because I didn’t realize that was a thing to girls literally the same age as me, at the time,” she said. “I wanted to always learn about these things that are going on in the world outside of just what I would know as a 10-year-old and see what’s happening to other people.”
Ramakrishnan is very open about the fact that her relatively newly-developed public image and booming social media presence will help bring awareness to women and girls issues globally.
“I have a lot of friends that, if they had the platform that I have, they would be just as vocal,” she said. “It is a privilege to have such a huge following...so with that privilege comes responsibility.”
“If I can use that privilege for good, I’m going to.”
62% of Canadian girls experience online harassment or abuse
Plan International Canada’s newest campaign focuses on online harassment of girls. A global survey of 14,000 girls aged 15 to 25 in 22 countries, conducted by the organization, found that 58 per cent of respondents were harassed or abused online. The statistic in Canada is even higher at 62 per cent.
“We’ve normalized online harassment now, which is totally wrong,” Ramakrishnan said. “We’ve normalized this idea that if you put yourself out there, you just have to deal with the fact that you’re going to get harassed.”
The study found that girls who use social media are routinely subjected to explicit messages, pornographic photos, cyberstalking and other forms of abuse.
Of the Canadian girls surveyed, 19 per cent said they would “stop posting content that expresses their opinion” as a way to manage the online harassment they face. A total of 48 per cent of the girls surveyed said they would choose to ignore the harassment, while 37 per cent would choose to report or block the harasser, or tighten their privacy settings.
The organization highlights that current reporting options offered on social media platforms “are not doing enough to prevent online harassment and abuse” and are calling on these companies to develop more robust and accessible reporting mechanism. Plan International Canada, in advance of International Day of the Girl on Oct. 11, has created an open letter to social media companies to do more to put an end to online harassment.
“We want those social media platforms to take it seriously,” Ramakrishnan said. “All these big social media platforms, making sure that they take accountability for when someone reports an incident online, rather than having that report button be something fake where it’s not actually helping, or doing anything.”
She added that people also need to take responsibility for ensure they’re not contributing to the idea of normalizing online harassment.
“Make sure that you realize and recognize, this is not OK and it’s OK for you to be upset about online harassment, don’t feel the need to just say, ‘oh it’s fine, it’s fine, everybody gets it,’” Ramakrishnan said. “It’s totally not OK.”
What’s next for Devi on ‘Never Have I Ever’?
While fans of Never Have I Ever eagerly wait for the second season of the series to hit Netflix, the show’s star certainly has some hopes for Devi’s future.
Although the love triangle between Devi, Ben Gross (Jaren Lewison) and Paxton Hall-Yoshida (Darren Barnet) closed out the season, in addition to Devi’s family possibly moving to India, Ramakrishnan wants to see her character learn to “love herself.”
“I just want her to learn how to love herself because if that journey of true self-love could be portrayed on screen, I think that would be really nice and it would resonate with a lot of people,” she said. “Not a lot of people love themselves so I think that would be a really good journey that Devi could go through and people could watch.”
At the outset, Never Have I Ever was praised for its diverse cast, starring Tamil-Canadian actor Ramakrishnan in the lead role, but she identifies that its the complexity and unique, individual storylines of all the characters in the series that makes it resonate with so many people.
“There’s truly somebody for everybody in the show, which is why I think it’s not only a [young adult] show, but it’s really an everybody show,” Ramakrishnan said.