Every feminist has her own version of the ideal online space. Some want it free of trolling, moral policing and judgement, and others envision it with privacy rights and access to information.
The internet has played a huge part in the evolution of feminism and ever since the MeToo Movement came to Pakistan in 2018, there has been a growing trend of women speaking publicly about sexual harassment or calling out men over inappropriate behavior.
All of this has been possible due to social media, where people are finally being given the acceptance they need to say their stories. However, there is still a lot of room for improvement.
“When a girl tells her family she is being harassed online and her parents don’t take her internet access away — that is when we’ve succeeded,” journalist Sadaf Khan, shared her version of a feminist internet — one free of victim blaming.
She was speaking on ‘Feminism in the Digital Space’ alongside three other influential feminists at the Women of the World Festival in Karachi on Sunday.
Actor and model Eman Suleman believes the more you talk about your experience, the more likely people are to reach out and share theirs. “And that puts you in a position to help them or at least guide them,” she remarked.
Eman was among the few celebrities who withdrew her name from the Lux Style Awards’ nominees to protest the nomination of an alleged harasser and spoke about how women started reaching out to her for advice after her decision.
The panelists discussed the importance of healthy online conversations where you can engage with other people to educate them.
“I sometimes see feminists saying during an online discourse that it is not their job to explain to someone what feminism is but that can be a lost opportunity, said Sabahat Zakariya, the brains behind Feminustani, an online platform that educates people about feminism.
However, the women in the panel felt there is a lack of support from “male allies”.
“Most of the male allies would be okay extending their support to victims of harassment in the DMs but won’t speak about it publicly,” said lawyer and activist Nighat Dad.
“Male feminists need to speak up when it’s needed,” Sabahat agreed.
While there is a collective need to take action against misogynistic trolls and hate messages or objectionable comments, Sadaf talked about how polarisation is something we shouldn’t be threatened by.
“We should not always be afraid by polarisation because that happens when there is fear that the status quo is changing, and things are being shaken up.”
Creating an empowering online future doesn’t just mean ending harassment of women — but giving women their rights to privacy, digital security and full control over their data, said Nighat. “Accessibility to internet is a fundamental right of every woman,” she added.
The feminists in the room, however, said there is still some time before women’s opinions are taken seriously.
“There’s a digital divide, and then there’s a digital gender divide,” said Nighat. “A picture of a man taking care of his children will go viral on social media but there’s no appreciation for a woman who spends hours doing the same job.”