Women under cyber-attacks

Anmol Sheraz 

PESHAWAR: With the passage of time internet has become a basic necessity of life and now-a-day it is an affordable, speedy and effective platform for all to get connected and share views with each other. It is also useful for marginalized communities where they can at least raise their voice for their rights. Similarly, it is good for women as well, where they can freely express their views regarding struggle for their empowerment and development. But, there are some problems for everyone, especially for women while using internet as they considered being the soft victims, and due to which they feel themselves insure while using social and digital media.

Like many countries, women are also facing abusive language, harassment, blackmailing, rape threats, and much more while using internet in Pakistan and it can be simply called as cyber-attacks or cyber-crimes. Here, it is to be noted that irrespective of gender, the victims of online/internet harassment can also be males, but as females in our society are more vulnerable so they face more this situation.

When we talk about the status of online harassment in Pakistan, the case of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province is quite different from the rest of the country. In KP, a big number of people are not aware about cyber-crimes and cyber-security and that’s why majority of women also do not report the cases of their online harassment. Here, few other factors are also involved. Due to patriarchy, most of the women avoid reporting cyber-attacks by men as confrontation with the later can cause more and more problems for the former. Similarly, due to the fear of losing honour of their families, women also adopt silence in such cases.

Sarah Mukhtar - a young mother of two, is an active voice on women rights, but she became the victim of cyber-harassment few months ago, says: “I had no idea that expressing my views on social media will create so many problems that not only men but women will also start harassing me.” 

“I used to receive threats and foul messages on Facebook and Instagram on daily basis. Few have even stolen my photos from my social media accounts and threatening me that they will edit my pictures in a vulgar mode, if I do not agree to adopt silence instead of expressing my views,” she adds.

As per the recent report of Digital Rights Foundation - a Pakistani advocacy and research NGO, 40% of females on internet in Pakistan have faced online harassment via social media, whereas 72% of women are not even aware of the cyber harassment laws. Many women opt for self-censorship as they are afraid of getting harassed to an extent that 70% of women in KP are reportedly terrified for using or posting their pictures online. 

Nadia Bangash - a human rights activist, says: “Because of the nature of my work and being outspoken I have faced a lot of online trolls. I desperately wanted to report the culprits who threatened me but my mother and friends asserted that I should limit my friends list and avoid sharing my thoughts openly on social media. However, the self-censorship is very depressing, seeing the others expressing their views freely.” 

“Due to my family and social pressure, I had to stay silent and ignore the online harassment as there is no other way than to keep struggling for the rights of oppressed,” she maintains.

Hira Khalil - a law student, says: “Without my consent, some personal pictures and videos of mine were spread on social media. I initially thought to ask someone for help but I could not do so as I was hesitant, did not know how to take care of my privacy? However, sometime later I filed my complaint in FIA’s cyber-crimes cell but after a long time I gave up that process as it was a time-consuming procedure, whereas the loss was already done to me and my family.”

Online violence against women cannot be given less importance than offline violence against them; therefore, every woman has the right to safe and secure internet service through which she could play an important role in her progress and development. So, our government and authorities concerned should devise special plans in this regard by making the prevailing cyber laws more effective and implementable.

Note: Names of the victims in the feature have been changed in order to protect their privacy.

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