Majority of women face online harassment in Pakistan – DRF



By Safeer Ullah Khan

Women are a tiny minority in the cyber world of Pakistan. More than 75 % of Facebook users are men. Pakistani women are facing online harassment, however we did not know the extent to which this was happening in the cyber world of Pakistan till Digital Rights Foundation or DRF conducted a detailed survey around on this important issue in Pakistan. They interviewed nearly 1800 women students and teachers of various universities.

This survey helps us get a fairly good idea of how deep rooted this problem is, and what, if any, remedies we have. DRF, under its campaign Hamara Internet, held trainings for women in different universities across Pakistan from Gilgit to Peshawar, Islamabad, Lahore, Multan, Jamshoro, Karachi, and Quetta. Following are some salient findings of the survey.

  • Women are not seen as owners of online spaces, and when any woman/girl tries to assert her right on such a space, she gets an abusive response. This reflects of the attitude in the physical world where it is believed that women belong to kitchen, and harassing her is a socially acceptable behaviour if she is found outside her home.
  • 72 % women said they did not know that any law existed to tackle online harassment/abuse. This is an interesting find, and shows how women (even educated ones) remain aloof from the political arena of the country. The cybercrime bill remained in the news for such a long time, and was so thoroughly debated not only in mainstream media but also in the social media that it is surprising to know that such an overwhelming majority did not know such a law existed.
  • 25 % women said they understood the terms and conditions of the social media websites completely. This is a bit surprising for us as most of the people (both men and women) do not bother to read them at all; understanding them completely is a little too much to believe.
  • Responding to the question which social media website they used, the responses were Facebook 67%, followed by ‘YouTube’ 23%, ‘Twitter’ 6% and ‘Instagram’ at 3 %. 79 % respondents used WhatsApp for messaging.
  • 50 % respondents said harassment occurred on social media websites, 22 % said it happened in the comments sections of websites/blogs, 14 % said it happened at online forums and chatrooms, and another 14 % said it happened in messaging applications like WhatsApp and Viber.
  • 70 % respondents felt unsafe about posting pictures online because they could be misused. 78 % respondents said they tried their best to make sure that their posts/pictures can be seen by their friends only.
  • Probably the most interesting question was asking respondents whether girls themselves were responsible for the online harassment they faced. Though majority (58 %) disagreed with this idea, still there were 19 % who decided to take a neutral position, while 23 % agreed with this statement.
  • When asked whether girls that face online harassment should stop using social media, an overwhelming majority disagreed (77%). However, 9 % remained neutral, and 15 % agreed.
  • 34 % women admitted that they had faced online harassment, while 55 % acknowledged that they had seen other women being harassed online.
  • 48 % of the respondents had been stalked online, 69 % respondents had received unwanted messages from men against their will, and 29 % had received inappropriate pictures from men.
  • 23 % women said that their private information was made public by others, while 48 % said that they knew of a woman whose private information was leaked similarly.
  • 23 % women said that their fake profiles were created by others. This is not an insignificant issue because in Pakistan, it may lead to murder of the girl besides other serious issues like breakups, divorces etc.
  • 21 % of the respondents acknowledged that they had stopped using internet/social media due to online harassment, while 48 % said that they knew of someone who had stopped using internet/social media.
  • 70 % women never reported harassment to Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) for various reasons including fear of consequences as the issue would become public, lack of knowledge, and lack of trust in FIA.
  • Among those who reported to FIA, 53 % said it was not helpful, while 47 % said it was helpful. If more than 50 % complainants are not happy, FIA needs to do something about it.
  • When asked for reasons for not reporting, 45 % women thought it would be embarrassing, 47 % thought their complaints would not be taken seriously, while 9 % thought it would be waste of time.

These findings are disturbing to say the least. It would be pertinent to mention here that this particular survey was restricted to students (and some teachers) of universities. There are many women and girls who do not reach universities, and then there are many women who have graduated out of universities and are now working at different places. Even women who are not working, who stay at home and do household chores are not safe. Keeping in mind these segments, we can safely assume that this survey shows us just a tip of an iceberg. The actual problem is much bigger.

There is a serious need to make policies and effective laws, and run mass awareness campaigns to educate men and boys about respecting women’s online privacy on the one hand, and to educate women and girls on how to remain safe. There is a need create awareness among women on:

  1. How to protect their data online
  2. How to deal with online harassment
  3. How to report and follow up cases of online harassment to relevant authorities (FIA).

Parents also need to be careful, and be friends with their daughters, so that their girls can trust them, and confide in them if they are facing any harassment or blackmail.

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Complete report can be downloaded from here: Complete Report on Online Harassment by DRF

It would be pertinent to mention here that DRF is running a helpline for people facing online harassment. You can call their toll-free helpline on this number: 0800 39393  (Pakistan Only)