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Karachi News
September 27,2017

‘Online harassment of women rooted in patriarchal values’

Umer Sheikh

While public spaces, even homes, were already unsafe for women, the online world has also treated their presence equally mercilessly, discussed an event held on increasing harassment of women in online spaces.

Titled ‘Politicising the Internet: Resisting Patriarchy in Online Spaces’, the programme comprised a panel discussion and a workshop; it was organised by the Irtiqa Institute of Social Sciences this past Monday.

Struggling with a kind of oppression that knows no bounds, women in our society are looked down upon in every walk of life, be it social, economical or even cultural. This patriarchal mindset was discussed in a panel discussion featuring founder Digital Rights Foundation and lawyer Nighat Dad and her team which included digital security experts, Fatima Athar and Danish Umar, and communication manager, Hija Kamran.

Set up in 2012, the DRF is an organisation working on defending freedom of expression in online spheres and the right to privacy of women, minorities and those who hold are critical of state policies.

A household name in the social media domain as well as on issues of online harassment and their legalities, Nighat spoke of the various kinds of harassment women are subjected to in online spaces.

“Nowadays there is this trend of men putting up personal pictures of their female partners after a relationship ends to blackmail the woman,” said Nighat. Except for a few, majority women in our society are unfamiliar with their rights protected under the constitution, and as a consequence women who suffer such kind of harassment usually go into social isolation; there have even been instances of some attempting suicide, she added.

Fatima Athar directed the audience’s attention towards another imperative issue, that of our culture promoting the systemic imbalance of power between the two genders. “This is why women are harassed in both offline an online spaces,” she observed.

“A woman needs to be well informed and well prepared against this mindset so as to form a strong system of protection for herself,” stated the digital security expert. In addition to this, she further spoke of the social norms which are applied on women and not on men. These norms and attitude are so strongly enforced that it leads women to believe that they are actually rights. Thus, making the oppressed engender negate the very notions of freedom and equality, she observed.

In South Asian countries women are not allowed the space to carve out identities for themselves neither in both online and offline spaces, Fatima added. Nighat further informed the audience about the role played by different states to ensure online protection of women. Some countries, she observed, even managed to completely terminate online harassment against women.

Speaking of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, she said besides this other ordinances have also been passed in Pakistan but most of them contain vague terminologies and definition of harassment, which makes it difficult to enforce them.

“It is this patriarchal attitude that keeps a woman from recognising her necessary social and economical rights,” commented a member of the audience in the question and answer session held at the discussion’s conclusion.


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