A large group of Pakistani women in media have released a joint statement about organised trolling, abuse and harassment they face online. The statement says, “Vicious attacks through social media are being directed at women journalists and commentators in Pakistan, making it incredibly difficult for them to carry out their professional duties.”
The statement further says that online attacks are instigated by government officials and then amplified by a large number of Twitter accounts, which declare their affiliation to the ruling party.
They asked the government to restrain its members from repeatedly targeting women in the media, send out a clear message to all party members, supporters and followers, to desist from launching these attacks, whether directly or indirectly and, hold all such individuals within the government accountable and take action against them. #AttacksWontSilenceUs, the hashtag used by the women who released the statement, trended at No 1 on Twitter.
Targeting women in media is easy as there are only about five percent of women who are journalists in Pakistan. They not only face vile abuse related to their gender, but they also face a barrage of allegations that they take ‘lifafa’ or are paid by Opposition parties. These bullying tactics are used to either silence them and/or discredit them. Last year, a report titled ‘Hostile Bytes – a study of online violence against women journalists’ by Media Matters for Democracy (MMfD) said that 95 percent of women journalists feel online violence has an impact on their professional choices, while 77 percent self-censor as a way to counter online violence. In the recent statement by women media practitioners, self-censorship was identified as a problem as well as hacking attempts of their social media accounts. The mental toll it must take on those who are at the receiving end of this constant abuse is another factor that leads to self-censorship.
Targeting women is a worldwide phenomenon. In neighbouring India, the trend is quite similar. Amnesty International published a report earlier this year, which said that women politicians in India face a shocking scale of abuse on Twitter. “Women are targeted with abuse online not just for their opinions – but also for various identities, such as gender, religion, caste, and marital status.” It has also been seen how women journalists who do not toe the official government line in India are viciously trolled by the ‘Modi Bhakts’ on social media platforms, especially Twitter.
The National Assembly’s Human Rights Committee has invited women media practitioners who released the statement to come and highlight their issues in a meeting on Tuesday. Federal Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari also lent her support to the women media practitioners in her tweets. It is important that these issues are raised at the right platforms so that Pakistani online spaces can be safe for women from all spheres of life. A civil discourse is the need of the hour instead of online abuse. We hope that those who are behind such campaigns can actually get past their political differences and ensure that online spaces are used for meaningful discourse instead of bullying.