In Pakistan, social media gives women a space to speak up — at their own risk

In this picture taken on July 12, 2018, students use their mobile phones at a campus in Islamabad. (AFP/File)
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Updated 03 August 2021

In Pakistan, social media gives women a space to speak up — at their own risk

  • Since July 20 murder of Noor Mukadam, Pakistani women are turning to the Internet to grieve, express solidarity and share stories of abuse
  • But using social media comes with its own risks, as trolling, abuse and threats have become an “expected reality” of being vocal online, activists say

RAWALPINDI: As last month’s murder of Noor Mukadam, the 27-year-old daughter of a former diplomat, shattered the semblance of freedom and safety many Pakistani women living in secure urban centers like Islamabad feel, activists and social media users say social media is providing women a space to share, grieve and express solidarity, but also opening them up to additional abuse. 
Mukadam was found beheaded in a posh neighborhood of the capital on July 20 in a case that has sparked a public outcry unlike any other in recent memory.
In conservative Pakistani society, with limits on women’s mobility and choices, the Internet can become a “shared meeting space” in the aftermath of grisly events like the Mukadam murder, Nigat Dad, a prominent Pakistani lawyer and digital and women rights activist, told Arab News this week.“For so many women, finding a community online is built around needing to be heard,” Dad said. “Women are able to find community online in Pakistan because they are unable to find community offline in most cases and it’s very hard for women to find such a sisterhood and solidarity as that which exists in digital spaces.”
“Online you have space to talk about things that usually you cannot [in real-life],” Dad added. 

The lack of “inclusive” gathering spaces for women in Pakistan is precisely why Kanwal Ahmed said she founded the Facebook Group Soul Sisters Pakistan in 2013. The private group has nearly 300,000 members now. 
“There are no inclusive spaces for women to meet others, interact or even just catch a breather in Pakistan. It can be isolating to be a woman in this country,” Ahmed told Arab News over the phone. “With rampant gender-based violence, complete lack of resources and a culture that thrives on silencing women, it was and is imperative that we create spaces where we shatter that culture of silence and let women encourage each other to speak up.”
The community Ahmed has helped build gives women a space “to share their stories, their problems and help each other out,” she said.




In this picture taken on August 31, 2020, women discuss as they check out the social online group 'The Soul Sisters Pakistan' on their Facebook page, in Lahore. (AFP/File)

In the wake of Mukadam’s murder, many women are also using social media platforms to speak about their own experiences of abuse and call out alleged harassers.
One such woman is Toronto-based writer Zahra Haider, who was born and raised in Islamabad and personally knew both Mukadam and the man charged with her murder, Zahir Jaffer. Since her friend’s killing, she has used her social media account to post updates about the case as well as share stories of other women.
“I am in a privileged position, and I will use it to combat this ... violence and abuse that is rampant in Pakistan,” Haider said. “Posting on social media can lead to accountability, to some change.”
But using the Internet to speak up comes with its own risks. 
Haider said in the past two weeks, she has faced numerous hacking attempts on her social media accounts, and threats of defamation suits.
Dad also spoke of attacks and harassment, saying it sometimes affected her mental health to the degree that she felt like quitting social media “just for a breather.” 
Dad is not alone. 




In this photograph taken on December 17, 2016, Pakistani lawyer and founder of the Digital Rights Foundation Nighat Dad speaks during an interview with AFP in Lahore. (AFP/File)

In 2020, the helpline at the Digital Rights Foundation advocacy group, which Dad founded in 2012 with a focus on protecting women online, recorded a total of 3,298 cases of cybercrime, 66 percent of them against women. In 2021, it recorded 2,082 cases between January to June, a majority by women.
Women face online threats globally, but the risk is enhanced in countries like Pakistan where there is a tradition of men killing women over perceived injury to a family’s honor. In 2012, in one of the first cases of honor killing linked to digital technology, a video of a private gathering was leaked showing four women dancing in the presence of three men in Kohistan. All the individuals shown in the video were murdered by their families in the name of honor. 
In 2016, social media star Qandeel Baloch was strangled by her own brother for posting so-called risque videos on the Internet. 
The same year, Pakistan’s parliament passed the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (Peca), which officials say aims to restrict online extremist content, prosecute hate speech, and curb harassment of women on the Internet. Rights groups say it has not made the Internet safer for women.
The Federal Investigation Agency’s cybercrime wing registered 8,500 complaints of women facing online harassment in 2018 and 2019. Agency officials told a parliamentary committee that blackmailing and harassment over social media were the most common complaints and that only 19.5 percent of the complaints were investigated, according to Human Rights Watch.
The FIA and the ministries of information and IT did not respond to phone calls seeking comment for this piece.
Meanwhile, trolling, abuse and threats have become an “expected reality” of being a vocal Pakistani woman on the Internet, Rabeeya Latif, an advocate for more inclusive, “non-judgmental” online spaces for women, said. 
“I’ve gotten all sorts of threats,” she said, listing murder and sexual violence among them. 
“It’s so sad that that’s what I had to deal with for doing the work that I do, but I deal with the trauma and abuse,” Latif said. “I just realized how much this country needs us and how I need to move forward to help other women because if I were to back down — well there is no way I am letting them win.”
“Yes, as women find community online,” Dad said, “they also face a myriad of unfair troubles.”


Pakistan’s religion ministry holds annual conference with focus on ‘promotion of unity’

Updated 18 October 2021

Pakistan’s religion ministry holds annual conference with focus on ‘promotion of unity’

  • Conference is part of celebrations for Mawlid Al-Nabi, the birth day of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)
  • The conference has been held annually by Ministry of Religious Affairs since 1976

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s 46th National Rehmatul Lil Aalameen Conference kicked off in the federal capital today, Monday, as part of celebrations for the upcoming Mawlid Al-Nabi, the birth day of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
Rabi Al-Awwal is the third month in the Islamic calendar. The month holds special significance for Muslims around the world as they observe the 12th of the month as Mawlid Al-Nabi, the birth day of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
Last week, Prime Minister urged the nation to celebrate next week’s birth anniversary in an “unprecedented manner” this year.
“The two-day conference titled ‘Role of Masjid, Madaris, Khanqas and Imambargahs for the promotion of unity and harmony in the light of teachings of the Holy Prophet (PBUH),’ would conclude on Tuesday,” state-run APP news agency said on Monday. “National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser would be the chief guest on the inaugural day of the conference.”
The second day, Tuesday, would have sessions presided over by President Dr Arif Alvi and PM Khan.
The conference has been held as the annual event of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony since 1976.
“The conference aimed at highlighting the soft image of Islam would disseminate the teachings of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be Upon Him) and also encourage the [Muslim] authors by giving them awards on outstanding books and research papers written on the life of the Holy Prophet (PBUH),” APP said.
“People from all walks of life, including Parliamentarians, ambassadors, Ulema, scholars, students of religious seminaries, universities, deans of universities and representatives of chambers of commerce and industry will attend the moot.”


IMF, Pakistan resume talks today for release of $1 billion loan tranche

Updated 44 min 20 sec ago

IMF, Pakistan resume talks today for release of $1 billion loan tranche

  • Finance ministry says negotiations ‘moving forward positively’
  • Denies media reports that talks had concluded last week in ‘failure’

ISLAMABAD: Talks between Pakistani officials and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are “moving forward positively” and will form the basis for the completion of the 6th review of a $6 billion loan program, the Pakistan ministry of finance has said, adding that talks would resume today, Monday.
In 2019, Pakistan reached an accord with the International Monetary Fund for a three-year, $6 billion bailout package aimed at shoring up fragile public finances and strengthening a slowing economy. Pakistani and IMF officials are currently engaged in a fresh round of talks for the release of a $1 billion tranche of the loan.
Five reviews of the program had been completed by March. The sixth is pending since June this year, which, if completed, will enable Pakistan to receive around $1 billion from the fund.
“Fund and Pakistani authorities will resume the talks on Monday [October 18, 2021] from where they were left on Friday,” Muzzamil Aslam, spokesperson for the finance ministry, said in a statement on Sunday. “There is no truth in the news of talks’ failure.”
Negotiations between Pakistan and the IMF are being led by secretary finance division, Yusuf Khan, in Washington, and are “moving forward positively,” the statement said: “No timeframe was set at any stage for conclusion of the talks. The negotiations with the IMF will continue till the successful conclusion.”

Pakistan's Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin (L) arrives in New York ahead of meeting with IMF on October 16, 2021. (Ministry of Finance)

The clarifications from the finance ministry came after local media reported that talks between the fund and Pakistan had concluded on Friday and failed.
Experts said talks may have stalled due to the government’s resistance to the IMF’s demand to increase energy prices even further. A hike of Rs 1.39 per unit was announced last week.
Pakistani Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin has been a staunch opponent of power tariff hikes and personal taxes but has showed some flexibility in recent weeks.
“The other stumbling block is the IMF’s insistence to increase the revenue generation target close to Rs 500 billion in addition to the revenue collection target of Rs 5.8 trillion,” Dr. Vaqar Ahmed, joint executive director at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), told Arab News. “This would not be an easy decision to take by the political government under current circumstances.”


Pakistan records lowest daily coronavirus infections since June 

Updated 53 min 47 sec ago

Pakistan records lowest daily coronavirus infections since June 

  • Pakistan has administered total of 93,551,193 doses of COVID vaccines so far
  • That’s enough to have vaccinated about 21.6 percent of the country’s population

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan reported 663 new coronavirus infections in the last 24 hours, the lowest number of COVID-19 cases recorded in a single day since June, health ministry data showed on Monday.
The South Asian country has reported 1,265,047 infections and 28,280 coronavirus-related deaths since the pandemic began. The government has administered a total of at least 93,551,193 doses of COVID vaccines so far. Assuming every person needs two doses, that’s enough to have vaccinated about 21.6 percent of the country’s population.
Official data shows 1,913 patient are admitted in critical care across the country.


On Sunday, Pakistan’s pandemic response body rejected as ‘fake’ a video on social media showing children were reacting adversely to vaccines.



In the last week of September, Pakistan announced it would begin to vaccinate children aged 12 or above.

 


Father suspected of killing two daughters, four grandchildren in Pakistan marriage feud

Updated 18 October 2021

Father suspected of killing two daughters, four grandchildren in Pakistan marriage feud

  • Manzoor Hussain hunted by police after allegedly setting fire to home of sisters Fauzia Bibi and Khurshid Mai in Muzaffargargh district
  • Bibi married Mehboob Ahmad against her father's will in a so-called love marriage, Mai's husband also died in blaze

LAHORE: A father in Pakistan is suspected of killing his two daughters and their four children by setting their house ablaze because one of the women married against his wishes, police said.
Manzoor Hussain is being hunted by police after allegedly setting fire to the home that sisters Fauzia Bibi and Khurshid Mai shared in a village in the Muzaffargargh district of central Pakistan, police official Abdul Majeed told Reuters by phone.
Mai’s husband also died in the blaze, Majeed said.
Bibi had married Mehboob Ahmad about 18 months ago against her father’s will in a so-called love marriage, according to the official, as opposed to an arranged marriage.
“The incident is outcome of the rivalry between the two families over the love marriage,” Majeed said.
Hussain, the father being searched for, lives in a nearby village, he added.
Bibi’s husband Ahmad told police he was not at home at the time of the fire and had found the house ablaze when he returned from work early in the morning, according to his statement to officers, which was seen by Reuters.
Ahmad said his four-month-old son had died, along with Mai’s three children aged two, six and 13.
Hundreds of women in Pakistan are killed by relatives every year for marrying without consent, or against their family’s wishes, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.


Pakistan fails to strike agreement with IMF for release of $1 billion loan tranche

Updated 17 October 2021

Pakistan fails to strike agreement with IMF for release of $1 billion loan tranche

  • Pakistan reached an accord with IMF for three-year, $6 billion bailout package in 2019
  • Pakistani and IMF officials are currently engaged in fresh around of staff-level talks in Washington

ISLAMABAD: The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Pakistan have failed to strike a staff-level agreement under a $6 billion Extended Fund Facility, or bailout package, Pakistani media reported on Sunday. 
In 2019, Pakistan reached an accord with the International Monetary Fund for a three-year, $6 billion bailout package aimed at shoring up fragile public finances and strengthening a slowing economy.
Pakistani and IMF officials are currently engaged in a fresh round of talks from October 4 to 15 for the release of a $1 billion tranche of the loan.
“The talks failed despite Pakistan having implemented a prior condition of increasing electricity and petroleum products prices,” the Express Tribune newspaper reported. “However, both sides have shown resolve to remain engaged.”
“The IMF team remains engaged with our Pakistani counterparts on moving forward our work agenda and we are looking forward to our continued discussions with the Pakistani authorities on the set of policies and reforms that could form the basis for the completion of the 6th review under the EFF,” Teresa Dabán Sanchez, the outgoing resident representative of the IMF, told The Express Tribune.
This is the second time Pakistan and the IMF could not find “basis for the completion of the 6th review.,” The first attempt was made in June.