By Minerwa Tahir
As many as 70% Pakistani women surveyed by the Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) said they were afraid of posting their pictures online out of fear of misuse.
DRF marked the soft-launch of Pakistan’s first quantitative research study on online violence, titled ‘Measuring Pakistani Women’s Experiences of Online Violence’. The research is part of DRF’s ongoing project, ‘Hamara Internet’, which aims at raising awareness, training women on how to safely use digital spaces and teaching them how to fight online abuse and tech-related violence. Over the course of 2016, DRF trained around 1,800 women across Pakistan. The report compiles together data collected during the 17 sessions that had been conducted in Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Gilgit with these women to create the first ever set of data around online harassment and electronic violence against women [e-VAW] in Pakistan.
Ensuring privacy out of fear
The report states that when asked if they felt they could share their pictures and posts with others, most of the respondents disagreed (37%) and strongly disagreed (29%). A mere 3% of the respondents strongly agreed, 12% agreed, while 19% were neutral. The report adds that ‘this means more than 60% of the respondents do not think that they should share their pictures and posts with too wide an audience’.
Similarly, 35% and 43% of the respondents stated that they ‘strongly agree’ and ‘agree’, respectively, with the fact that they made sure that their friends alone could see their posts online as they felt unsafe otherwise.
The report suggests that these findings reflect that ‘women often limit or restrict their presence online so as to avoid threats and dangers online’.
The report says these questions reveal a similar pattern: ‘the perceived danger of social media presence’. Conceding that the high numbers can be due to the number of respondents who have access to social media, they may also ‘reflect the lack of knowledge and confidence with regards to reporting harassment over social media’.
Reporting online harassment
Respondents were asked how they felt about online harassment and taking action against it. Reporting online harassment tarnished our name and reputation, said 39% of the women, while 33% said that reporting online harassment could put them in more danger.
The report says this doesn’t just point towards women’s attitudes but also shows that we do not truly know how large the number of women who face harassment really is.
Whose fault is it?
According to the report, there was a varied response when women were asked if they felt that the girls who are harassed online are at fault.
The majority at 30% disagreed and 28% strongly disagreed while 15% agreed, 8% strongly agreed and 19% were neutral. When asked if they thought girls should abstain from social media if they were harassed, the majority (45%) strongly disagreed, 32% disagreed, 6% agreed, 8% strongly agreed and 9% were neutral.
Pakistan’s cultural taboos and stigmas are at play where women, despite being the victims, are often seen as being the root cause of their own harassment, says the report. “Women who believe reporting only puts them in danger are also speaking from some kind of experience – even if it’s not first hand,” it states. “That experience is rooted in the fact that Pakistan has seen many murders that have digital roots. This is one of the core reasons that women do not see themselves as owners of online spaces, since these are spaces that endanger them just as much as they facilitate them.”
Abuse by men
Research results from the survey show that 485 (34%) of the total number of women surveyed had experienced online harassment and abuse by men. Out of these, 90% were between the ages of 18 and 25, 5% below the age of 18 and 5% above the age of 25. Out of these women, 12% were from Quetta, 11% from Karachi, 8% from Lahore, 8% from Islamabad, 8% from Multan, 7% from Rawalpindi, 7% from Peshawar, 5% from Gilgit, 3% from Sialkot and 3% from Charsadda. “There were also large percentages of women who said that they had witnessed other women being bullied and harassed by men online, of which 25% had strongly agreed and 30% had agreed that they had,” the report states. “On the other hand, 19% disagreed, 9% strongly disagreed and 17% were neutral.”
Of the total number of young women surveyed, 567 (40%) reported having been stalked and harassed via messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Viber. The majority of these women were from Quetta at 13%, followed by Karachi at 9%, Lahore at 8%, Peshawar at 8%, Gilgit at 7%, Islamabad at 4%, Multan at 4%, Rawalpindi at 4%, Charsadda at 2% and Sialkot at 1%.
Physical violence threats
According to the report, respondents were also asked about whether they had been threatened with physical violence online. While 227 (16%) of the women out of the total number who took the survey responded that they had, 85% of these were between the ages of 18 and 25 and 9% below the age of 18 and 5% above the age of 25.
Breach of data and privacy
The report says women surveyed were also asked if they had been victims of online pages that leaked sensitive information about women. Of the total women surveyed, 332 (23%) women responded with a positive. It adds that out of the total number of respondents surveyed, 353 (25%) of the women had faced experiences where someone they trusted with their passwords misused their personal data.
Meanwhile, women were asked if they had had seen fake profiles made of themselves and 334 (23%) responded with an affirmative.
Surveys and campaign
Surveys with women were conducted during the DRF’s digital security awareness raising sessions at universities as part of the organization’s campaign, titled ‘Hamara Internet’. The campaign, specifically catering to colleges and universities in Pakistan, was launched in 2016 and serves to bridge the gender digital divide through capacity building regarding the use of the internet securely, promoting equitable access to technology, fostering digital literacy and networking for advocacy around the issue of digital rights of women.