Going online, as we now know, is a risky thing for a woman in any country, as women are regularly harassed and threatened online. One Australian study reported that half of all women and 76% of women under 30 received some kind of online harassment. We are starting to accept that this is normal, and in my opinion, that kind of acceptance is a very dangerous thing.
“Don’t post your personal photos” and “Don’t send your photos to a boyfriend or else they’ll be used against you” are now being told to girls and women all the time. This was not the case back when the Internet first came to Pakistan in the late 90s; the harassment was text-based, with messages coming day and night to any and all women from men who were desperate for contact. If any of you remember using ICQ, you’ll remember hours of clicking through messages from “randoms” that were usually some combination of “Hy” and “hru” and “a/s/l” that we found mildly annoying just because they were so relentless.
Today, this is what the abuse looks like:
Yes, this is a screenshot of actual messages sent to a Pakistani woman by a Pakistani man.
Nighat Dad of the Digital Rights Foundation writes:
People who send unwanted abusive messages to sexually harass women, please know it’s a cyber crime under Prevention of Electronic crimes Act 2016 and you can’t get away with it once such abuse leave your computer and ends up in someone’s inbox.
Section 24: Cyber stalking of Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 deals with messages like the one you see in the image above. Under this section you can be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years or with fine which may extend to one million rupees or with both.
Read details here. http://www.na.gov.pk/uploads/documents/1472635250_246.pdf
Please spread the message, people should know they can’t get away after harassing women, offline and online.
The PECB is a flawed law; draconian measures can be used to curb freedom of expression, and what happened to the bloggers and activists that were accused of anti-state activities and blasphemy is a case in point. Digital rights and human rights activists will have to continue to play watchdog against the excesses of this law, and we will all have to do our part to make sure that witchhunts like the one against “anti-army” posts
The FIA investigated cases of online harassment before the PECB was signed into law, but now this is the mechanism by which such cases are prosecuted. In other words, it’s all we have. And the anti-harassment and anti-blackmailing parts of the law are highly necessary for online safety, so we have to work with what we’ve got until something better is instituted.
A few weeks ago when I was harassed by a woman who took my pictures and posted them with lewd comments, I had to tell her to take them down or I’d report her under the PECB for using my photograph without my permission. I felt no qualms in doing this, even though I have written extensively about the PECB and its shortcomings. And I would not hesitate to do it again if I were ever harassed in a similar manner by anyone, man or woman.
Going back to this particular screenshot, when the person was “named and shamed” on Facebook (Facebook reporting is particularly ineffective, especially when abuse is in Urdu or another regional language for which Facebook has no translators), a few people objected to “such messages” being shared “in public”. No doubt the language in it is very offensive and is not what we would like to read during Ramazan.
But if we don’t share what we get in our inboxes, how else will you know how bad it gets for women online? You don’t deserve to be sheltered from the ugliness of sexual harassment, just because it isn’t happening to you. It could happen to your daughter, sister, cousin or friend. When she comes to you to show you what happened to her, will you say, “Gandi baatey mat dikhana mujhey?”
Exposing this kind of harassment serves several purposes: it can be used as evidence; it can galvanize public reaction and action against harassment; it can be used to rally support for women who are traumatized by this kind of aggression and violence. Because this really is violence, which comes in many shapes and forms. And we as a society must not close our eyes or ears to it, any more than we should close our eyes if a woman is being raped or beaten in front of us.