Open Letter to NCSW: Technology based Violence against Women and Girls in Pakistan

Islamabad, December 10, 2013: On the auspicious occasion of the International Human Rights Day, and the day that marks the end of the international ‘sixteen days of activism’ campaign to end violence against women, we write to you to share some thoughts and concerns with regards to the interplay of ICTs and gender issues in Pakistan.

The increasing penetration of ICTs in Pakistan has been a very welcome phenomenon. In the area of human rights, information and communication technologies and the various platforms accorded by them have provided a hitherto acutely needed space for raising awareness, and advocacy, of human rights in the country. The very nature of Internet and mobile telephony implied greater access to information, and greater freedom of speech and expression. In particular, these technologies brought the voices of women to the forefront. They also provided the invisible, yet very large but severely marginalized, groups of gender and sexual minorities with a platform to connect, to speak out, and to raise awareness of their issues and rights.

However, in recent years we, the human rights defenders and civil society organizations in Pakistan, have developed grave concerns with regard to the governance of the ICTs in Pakistan. It is on a regressive trajectory, with surveillance and invasions of privacy through the use of ICTs becoming serious concerns. Further cause for worry are citizens’ rights of free of speech, association, expression and access to information being trampled upon with impunity.

It is acts of both commission and omission by the government over the past several years that have led up to a dire situation whereby, on the one hand the government has taken to banning websites and digital content at will, affecting both freedoms of information and expression, and on the other, has failed to curb hate speech and incitement to violence. 

Whilst the list of such infringements and violence is too long to enumerate here, we would like to draw your attention to the rampant use of hate speech, incitement to violence and acts of violence targeted especially at women human rights defenders and young girls in the country. We, at Bytes for All have not only campaigned vigorously against such practices through our Take Back The Tech Campaign, but also delivered several trainings to women human rights defenders and other marginalized religious and gender/sexual minorities to build their capacity in digital security and privacy.

Despite these efforts, these groups remain at high risk due to the unfortunate culture of impunity, which is where government needs to step in. We therefore urge the NCSW and other relevant authorities to review the government’s policies of ICTs governance in light of the adverse impact on the status of women and gender and sexual minorities with a view to help lead:

  • efforts to educate young males – via school, college, media awareness programs -  to change their self-perception of masculine identity from one steeped in chauvinistic or misogynistic attitudes, to one that regards women and girls with equality, respect and humanity
  • better implementation of law to bring to an end the culture of impunity associated with violence against vulnerable citizens of Pakistan, be they women or marginalized gender and sexual minorities 
  • capacity building of the gender and sexual minority communities in Pakistan in the areas of privacy and security vis-à-vis the ICTs, such communication modes being lifelines for them
  • wider consultation on formulation of government law and policy governing Internet/ICTs freedoms and rights, to ensure pro-people legislation

It is hoped that given its wide purview on the status of women, NCSW (and other relevant authorities) will take cognizance of the violations of fundamental rights and freedoms of women and gender minorities being facilitated due to ill governance of ICTs in Pakistan. We look forward to working with you and having an opportunity to brief you in more detail.

Yours truly

Shahzad Ahmad
Country Director
Bytes for All, Pakistan

 

This letter sent to following can be downloaded from here:

Ms. Khawar Mumtaz, 
Chairperson,
National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW)
House 39, Street 56, F/6-4, 
Islamabad, Pakistan
 
CC:
Prime Minister’s Secretariat
Minister of Information Technology
Chief Minister’s Secretariat, Punjab
Chief Minister’s Secretariat, Sindh
Chief Minister’s Secretariat, KP
Chief Minister’s Secretariat, Balochistan
Pakistan Telecommunications Authority
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan
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