The Digital Divide

Women’s rights in Pakistan are defined and protected by the country’s constitutional laws. However, in practice, as in many other parts of the world, religion, geography, education and ethnicity often prevent women from exercising those rights. In a country where over half the population is illiterate, a typical woman’s life is seriously circumscribed. The last 30 years has seen a strengthening of this patriarchal conservativism. With the influx of foreign fundamentalism, there has been a surge to the right which has effectively choked the lives of women and girls in most regions. Re-enforcing these restrictions is the ever-present threat of “honour” killings, reserved for those deemed to shame their families. The number of “honour” killings in Pakistan ranges from 700 to 1,100 per year, far greater than in any other country. These killings are committed in cases of perceived impurity, administered by the tribal jirgas (councils), and accepted by family members as just punishment for the “shame” and “dishonor” assumed. While under Pakistani constitutional law there is a presumption of innocence, under Jirga law, neither victims nor accused are given a voice.

On to this stage enters new media and digital technology.

One in fourteen Pakistanis have access to a television, but over 70% of the population has mobile phones. New media technologies bring with them the opportunity for greater communications and information sharing. However, the lines between public and private – so critical in the lives of women in traditional homes - become increasingly blurred when digital media enters the room.

Throughout the world the abuse of this technology for the purpose of shaming, revenge, or extortion, has turned these devices into weapons. Actions which are tolerated in private are now able to be captured on mobile video, shared and made public, instantly bringing “dishonour” to the family. In Pakistan, women are particularly vulnerable due to the extreme limitations placed on their public activities. But youth, both girls and boys, are the greatest adopters of these new technologies and more likely to take risks, are also greatly impacted.

Under the tribal laws of the Northern Pakistan region of Kohistan, where our story begins, the “dishonor” caused by actions such as those seen in the Kohistan Video, is punishable by death. And in this case, women and girls go first.

 

           

 

The Kohistan Video Scandal • Digital Warriors Production Inc. • 2016