The downside of technology and the internet

Published: November 26, 2010
The writer is a former morning TV show host

The writer is a former morning TV show host

Today I learnt a new statistic. 95 per cent of aggressive behaviour, harassment, abusive language and degrading images in online spaces are aimed at women. This is a global phenomenon but one that can be, and is, overlooked. After all, when we think of violence, it is physical assault that comes to mind. What takes place in the worldwide web does not immediately seem as destructive as a blow on the head. Think again.

The United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (VAW) defines VAW as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life”. The virtual world, or reality as it is called, can be quite real. Let’s not forget that the definition of virtual is ‘being such in power, force, or effect, though not actually or expressly such.’

An example of virtual violence that comes to my mind from Pakistan is of a campaign launched a few months ago on Facebook and other sites on the internet targeting a few female television news presenters. The intention was obviously to discredit these women as journalists by making insidious insinuations about their ‘characters’. The campaign ran its misogynistic and racist life for a few months after which it fizzled. What endured was the performance of the women who were being attacked. They remain as successful and empowered.

I must confess that I too have faced similar harassment. All of this year, any time I was mentioned, interviewed or featured on a website, including my own blog, there was a barrage of abusive emails and comments that followed. It was a recurring message addressed to me and my hosts reminding me of my responsibilities as a Muslim woman. Another charming fellow chooses to maintain a site,, that discusses the physical attributes of women who appear on television. I mention the website knowing it could bring it more traffic, but also hoping that someone can help shut it down.

Thankfully, there are people who are addressing this issue. The disturbing statistic I mentioned in my opening came to my attention through a campaign called ‘Take Back The Tech!’. According to the website, this is a collaborative campaign that takes place during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence  (from November 25, the International Day of Violence Against women, to December 10). It is a call to everyone, especially women and girls, to take control of technology and end violence against women.

In Pakistan, this dynamic group is led by Jehan Ara (president of Pakistan Software Houses Association), who believes that while technology can be employed by abusers, it can also be used by victims and survivors to connect, to organise and to speak out. On her blog, ‘In the Line of Wire,’ Jehan tells you how you can use technology to create awareness and participate in a type of activism that is available to everyone, even when at home. She shows you how an act as small as sending an SMS, something that is part of our daily lives, can make a difference in ridding the world of violence against woman. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got my phone in my hand.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 26th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (6)

  • Moazzam Salim
    Nov 26, 2010 - 10:07AM

    Internet is only an extension of our real lives. It is the way Pakistanis behave and act in real life that has flown into the virtual world. The problem is our attitudes and viewpoints which can only be cured through ideologically correct education. And then there is the training that the young guns get from their homes. Believe it or not most of the women actually spoil their kids and do not train them, when there is time, to respect and honour other women. And then there is the religion and its interpretation which is controlled by mullahs. All in all it is a tough scenario for women in Pakistan and no doubt they are the weaker gender here. Recommend

  • Anoctopus
    Nov 26, 2010 - 12:23PM

    So i gave and it’s sister-site a visit and I must say my findings conflict with your’s.

    Dear Ms. Naveen Naqvi with a tone that at best can only be described as apologetic I wish to understand what you found so inconceivably offensive about the mentioned site. The video footage provided therein has but been reproduced as it was on television. If you feel that the website objectifies women by posting videos in which they are scantily-clad (which is a matter of perspective, what to you may be scantily-clad would be to them appropriately dressed for the occasion) you are, and i do say so with the utmost of humility, mistaken.

    I feel strongly for violence against women and kudos for the rest of the article. But do refrain from making ill-conceived assertions.


  • Mehmood
    Nov 26, 2010 - 1:04PM

    I agree 100% with Moazzam’s comment above. In order to “fix” the online habits of a certain subsection of the Pakistani online community, we must fix the habits of the Pakistani community at large when it is AFK (away from keyboard).

    Call me cynical, but I don’t really think an obscure campaign on Twitter can change the long-standing (and quite frankly abysmal) treatment of women ingrained in our culture over the last couple of centuries. And it’s not just about culture, it’s also about our (flawed, I believe) interpretation of religion.

    Being a guy, I can’t imagine how it must feel to be treated the way women obviously are by this portion of society. It is admirable that the writer and others are using their credibility and respect in the eyes of the public to actually do some good. But in cases of such widespread moral decay, perhaps it is best for the regular girls to just turn the other way.Recommend

  • parvez
    Nov 26, 2010 - 1:16PM

    Thanks for creating an awareness on this issue.
    What immediately came to mind was an excellent blog on ET, where the writer referred to the cell phone and the SMS’s as a ” weapon “. How true.Recommend

  • Syed Mustajab Abbas
    Nov 26, 2010 - 4:26PM

    I respect Naveen Naqvi view of point. but it seems quite bias, as 95% is a big ratio ad you cant mention that ratio without knowing truth as male also face same abuse through comment on blog and email. It is the mind setup of the society. I am doing MPhil leading toward PHD in Mass Communication and also work as journalist. I keenly observe that all roots of problem are due to education. Our primary education system is so weak it didn’t enlighten our thoughts, the material made us rigid, bigheaded and antagonistic as an example. In our Urdu primary books we can easily see some stories which are quite pathetic as I read a story that Anwar and Rabia came to home. After lunch Anwar went for play with his friend and Rabia stay at home and helped her mother preparing dinner. That’s really show stereotype role of women and propagates a certain role. So point is that our education system are really poor it can’t made women empowerment. We are failed to develop a discipline, ethical nation as our basic education is so rigid. So it’s not the fault of Pakistani male its fault of weak education syestem. Think about it.Recommend

  • Nov 26, 2010 - 7:22PM

    more power to you guys

    raising awareness is the first minuscule step against a mountain bred through centuries of socio-religious incantation

    that mindset appears too rigid by the dayRecommend

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