By: Bisma Jatoi
October 2020 brought a major breakthrough in the overall perspective of Pakistan as a country embarking on a journey of freedom of expression.
A Lahore based organization “Bargad” held a week long capacity building workshop revolving around the topic of “Hate speech and religious exclusion”.
The topic in itself gave an air of astonishment due to historical and recent events of religious intolerance.
However, the days to follow proved no less than a huge opportunity to meet extraordinary individuals from all around Pakistan who are working tirelessly to restore Jinnah’s Pakistan which came into being on the values of inclusion, respect and freedom for all.
Interestingly, the biggest learning was something more than Pakistan’s journey towards liberty of thoughts and it was the acknowledgement of the fact that unbridled freedom takes toll over human dignity and life as well.
During experience sharing segment, the broader topic of hate speech turned more dangerous in context of women victims of cyber bullying.
Few of the women participants from Hazara community shared their nightmare of excessive cyber mud-slinging and defamation out of personal animosity among peers.
Their experience proved a huge trigger for every female participant who somehow had a memory of online hate speech and bullying.
Cyber hate speech is a colossal threat in today’s world of misunderstood freedom and unfortunately, it is being used for minority and marginalized groups.
Women are more easy target in this keyboard extremism which put their dignity, honor and life on stakes.
Online hate speech is not mere national phenomenon rather it has turned out to be global issue.
According to a paper by policy department for citizens’ rights and constitutional affairs, “20% of young women in the European union have experienced cyber sexual harassment.”
Similarly, in context of Pakistan, a report by digital rights foundation revealed through a research study on “measuring Pakistani women’s experiences of online violence”, “70% of the surveyed women posited that they were afraid of their pictures being posted online.”
This gloomy picture shows how women face the consequences of unrestricted digital freedom of others in spite of limiting their presence online.
Online hate speech against women turns more violent and appears a “coordinated campaign” when it comes to noted women of any sector especially activists, journalists, politicians and social workers.
Cyber harassment is being used as an effective tool to suppress the voices of women categorically. The question arises as to how much government authorities and legislature are aware of heinous crime.
In 2016, Prevention of electronic crimes act (Peca) passed by parliament has proved non-effective and bagged more criticism from human rights groups. Federal investigation agency(FIA), on the other hand, seems short of staff as compared to number of complaints being filed. A report submitted by FIA revealed that “it registered 8500 complaints of women facing online harassment in 2018 and 2019.”
Yet, the actual numbers will remain hidden because many women never speak up against the ordeal due to lengthy process of complain registration and other social threats.
In terms of causes and consequences of such below human acts of cyber violence, a surge has been witnessed in suicide cases, school dropouts, honor killings, forced marriages and many other socio-cultural implications.
The benefits of anonymity and weak cyber laws make harasser immune to any punishments, thus, opening up avenues for them to malign women easily.
The law enforcement agencies and government authorities should come up with comprehensive cyber security policy and effective implementation roadmap in order to make digital space more inclusive and safe for women.