In this patriarchal world, women have always been in a subordinate position and whenever they are trying to dominate the world, they are threatened, bullied, and abused. Cyber harassment against women is a new kind of bullying and abusive phenomenon that is done by the opposite gender to show and maintain their dominance. Most of the women in Pakistan and worldwide have been victims of cyberbullying like stalking, physical threats, name-calling, and sexual harassment.
The 21st century is an era of the internet and this technology has revolutionized the world by making it a global village where people can easily communicate, trade, and educate. This new information and communication technology has many benefits – such as the inexpensive and easy way of communication, easily starting a business, and studying anything online – but at the same time, it has some agonies.
One of the most disturbing tortures that came from the internet is cyber harassment. “Harassment” is an act of threatening and humiliating a person be it physical or mental while “cyber” means the internet and the virtual world. Cyber harassment or cyberbullying refers to the harassment of people through the use of information and communication technology (Baren, 2005).
There are several types of cyber harassment including caricature, spam, hate mail, deception, and other felonious activities. Cyber harassment leads to negative effects on a person’s emotional wellbeing as one can have suicidal thoughts after being bullied by an unknown source. Cyber harassment can have a damaging, suicidal, harmful, and negative impact on the strongest individuals.
Anyone can be a target of online bullying be it children, men, or women, belonging to any profession, caste, ethnicity, or social stature. The hateful messages, disturbing recommendations, and altered photos and videos are the major means for cyberbullying.
One video, photo, or message that goes viral on social media sites can lead to meme building and can, sometimes, be manipulated and morphed by people and used for harassment. The privacy of a person is breached by the harassers who use their personal information to tarnish their image, leading to the victim having suicidal and harmful thoughts.
In total, forty percent of the online users have been the direct target of online bullying while seventy-three percent of people have seen some other person being bullied online. Eighteen percent of the victims of cyber harassment have been targeted in severe forms like physical threats, sexual harassment, and stalking while the other twenty-two percent of people have faced less severe forms of bullying, including embarrassment and name-calling (Duggan, 2014).
All genders are the victims of cyber harassment but women are more prone to online bullying. In this paper, cyberbullying and harassment against women in Pakistan and elsewhere will be discussed by looking into the examples of various countries of the world.
Cyber Harassment Against Women
Cyber harassers try to target people to oppress and threaten them in order to get their subordination and submission to establish a hegemonic position. The easiest targets of these bullies are the women. This world is a patriarchal place where men are always at a higher position while women are always at a subsidiary position.
Women are not given equal economic, social and political participation and power in society. They are running several movements and voicing themselves to get an equal position in society but they are still considered unequal, weak, subordinate, and inferior. All these reasons make them more prone to harassment, abuse, and mistreatment.
The social dominance theory can be conceivable to study cyber harassment as the harassers are at the dominant position while the ones bullied are at the subordinate position (Tanya Beran, 2005). The social dominance theory is a multilevel theory of how societies maintain group-based dominance, be it ethnic, sexist, national, or radical, in which one group has more power than the other group.
In our societies, a special kind of group dominance can be found that is related to sexism. Women are always in the subordinate position while men have unequal power and have more privileges and freedoms as compared to women (Pratto, 2012).
If we look into the society where women are at an inferior place then men, it can be noticed that they are susceptible to severe forms of cyber harassment for a longer period. About thirty-seven percent of women have faced cyberbullying and among them, twenty-five to twenty-six young women have been stalked online and faced sexual harassment (Duggan, 2014).
Cyberbullying has a greater impact on women than men as they are more likely to face severe forms of harassment while men usually face mild forms of harassment. About thirty-seven percent of women who have faced online harassment have had high and severe effects (Duggan, 2014).
Women suffer from various psychological consequences after facing online harassment. In 2017, about 66% of women who faced cyber harassment felt the feeling of powerlessness in their ability to respond to the harasser, 63% of them were unable to sleep well, 61% had low self-esteem and confidence, 58% of women had the feeling of apprehension when thinking about using the internet, 55% have faced stress and anxiety, and 54% had a feeling of apprehension while responding to emails and felt isolated (Johnson, 2017).
Cyberbullying in Pakistan
Pakistan is a patriarchal society where economic, social, political, and religious structures and forces have traditionally given men more power, control, and freedom and to preserve male dominance females are targeted (Salam, 2020). Women are always in an inferior position and dominated by men and have faced abuses, rapes, honor-killing, acid attacks, domestic violence, and forced marriages.
Now with the invention and usage of the internet in daily life, women in Pakistan are facing an extreme level of cyberbullying and harassment. Cyberbullying against women in Pakistan is an explicit expression of women’s inequality and abuse that is entrenched in society. The men who want to have control of women and always want women in a subordinate position harass and target them online.
There are no rules that identify what can bring online violence as people are behind their computers and not face-to-face. So, they do not hesitate to bother another person. Women in Pakistan face cyberbullying in the form of harassment, blackmailing, hate speech, creation of fake accounts, stalking, trolling, and identity theft. All these forms of bullying can lead to severe psychological and physical impacts on women.
As per the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, gender-based violence is the “violence that is directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects women disproportionately.” This type of violence includes physical, sexual, and emotional damage that has been done both offline and online (Haider, 2020).
Pakistan ranks among countries whose internet access is increasing day by day, as per the Global Digital Report, there are 76.38 million internet users in Pakistan and among them, thirty-seven million have active social media accounts (Haider, 2020).
It is believed that forty percent of women using the internet have faced cyber harassment, be it on Facebook, WhatsApp, Messenger, Instagram, Twitter, or via emails (Haider, 2020). Women in Pakistan have been the victim of severe cyberbullying without any professional restrictions as actors, singers, students, journalists, and teachers all have faced some kind of cyber harassment.
Among the total cases of cyber harassment, 215 cases are related to online stalking, 268 are about gender-based violence, 102 cases are regarding non-consensual sexually explicit content and 72 are about non-consensual photoshopped pictures and videos (Haider, 2020). Moreover, 72% of girls have faced impersonation.
In November 2020, Fatima Aamir, a victim of online harassment revealed that for the last four years a man had been sending her rape and murder threats online. She had even shared screenshots and voice notes of their conversation. Once the incident had caught the public eye, it compelled the authorities to arrest the culprit(Bukhari, 2020).
Pakistan is a country where women face severe cyberbullying, often for having strong opinions (particularly about the patriarchal society and the issues that prevail because of it). Forty percent of women online are bullied but among them, only twenty-eight percent of women report the harassment cases while the rest do not report these cases out of embarrassment (Haider, 2020). Women also think that reporting cyber harassment will just lead to more harassment.
One such example is the case of Meesha Shafi, a prominent singer who faced extreme cyber harassment after publicly coming forward with sexual harassment claims against another famous singer. Moreover, it is usually women who have achieved some modicum of fame that become victims of cyberbullying.
It is believed that nine out of ten female journalists in Pakistan have faced cyber harassment, and that cyberbullying has impacted their lives (Kamran, 2019). Bina Shah, a Pakistani author and columnist, was subjected to cyber harassment in 2014 when someone used her pictures to create a fake profile on Twitter. The perpetrator, using her identity, then contacted people she was acquainted with (online and in-person) and harassed them (“Cyberbullying of women in Pakistan,” 2016).
Pakistan has effective cyber harassment laws that most people do not know about. The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016, guarantees strict punishments for online bullies. For instance, spreading wrong information about someone online can lead to up to three years in prison along with a fine of one million rupees or both. Similarly, making non-consensual videos and pictures (fake or real) of someone, and distributing them online can lead to up to five years in jail or five million rupees worth of fine or both.
Cyberstalking, hacking a phone, social media account, or email can result in three years in jail and fines of up to one million rupees. The Federal Investigation Agency has also created the National Response Center for Cyber Crimes (NR3C) to combat cybercrimes in Pakistan. NR3C provides an online platform for reporting cyber harassment as well as providing tips for the prevention of cybercrimes and securing social media accounts, online banking, and smartphones (Mohsin, 2016).
Apart from these cyber harassment laws, under Article 14 of the Constitution of Pakistan, the state is responsible for protecting the dignity of the citizens of the state, while the harassers tarnish the reputation of women and commit a crime by not following the law of the state.
The cyber harassment reports as other complaints have not been investigated and most people are not given justice. According to the Standing Committee of Senate, the PTA (Pakistan Telecommunication Authority) and NR3C were unable to tackle the growing cyberbullying cases. Out of fifty-six thousand reports submitted by the victims, only thirty-two are under investigation (Haider, 2020). This slow investigating process leads to disappointment among the victims and brings joy to the harassers as they are not punished and can easily show their dominance behind their screens.
Cyber Harassment and the World
Women throughout the world have been victims of cyber harassment and we cannot say that women from developed countries are less harassed and ladies from underdeveloped countries are more harassed online. Women of the whole world are subjugated by men as the whole world is patriarchal and men have more social and economic powers. Their social stature is high in society and to maintain that they try to harass women.
Cyberbullying is the new kind of abuse where you are unaware of who has abused you and why have you been threatened and it has equal physical and psychological impacts on the victim. In Congo, two girls were photographed by their boyfriends and their pictures were posted on Facebook without consent. Whereas in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a stalker covertly took pictures of a woman, claiming that he was in a “forbidden love” with her (Online violence: Just because it’s virtual doesn’t make it any less real, n.d.).
Every one in ten women reports cyber harassment and cyberstalking in the European Union. They receive unwanted sexually articulated emails and messages as well as inappropriate advances on social media (Facts and figures: Ending violence against women, 2020).
In Australia, almost 47% of women have been victims of online harassment and among them, 70% are under the age of thirty (Reilly, 2016). In the United States, thirty-seven percent of women are harassed online while twenty-seven percent of young girls have experienced cyber harassment in the USA which is twice more than the percentage of men who have faced cyberbullying (Duggan, 2014).
Twenty-three percent of women in Denmark, Italy, the USA, the UK, New Zealand, Poland, Spain, and Sweden have experienced online abuse and have had to face their physical and psychological implications (“Amnesty reveals alarming impact of online abuse against Women,” 2017). All these countries, like Pakistan, have legislature available to tackle cyberbullying and harassment but they are also unable to provide in-time justice to the victims of cyber harassment.
Through the examples of these countries, we can say that women are harassed online throughout the world. They are victims of sexual harassment, doxing, abuse, stalking, and misogynistic texts that have an emotional and physical impact on women. This world is a male-dominated place where women are considered eligible only for home and family making. When women try to open up in society through social media mediums, they are harassed by male chauvinists as they do not want to listen to their opinions. Hence, they try to oppress them by threatening them online.
Women all around the world, including Pakistan, have always been in a subordinate position, so whenever they are to dominate the world, they are harassed and blamed for every wrong thing so they can feel inferior. Men try to bully women throughout the world to maintain their social dominance.
Cyber harassment is on the rise despite the laws being in place and women are reluctant to report cyber harassment as they consider it an embarrassment. The laws are available but at the same time, the judicial system has been very slow. Most of the victims’ cases have not been investigated and if they are investigated, they hardly see an applaudable outcome. Rather, women have faced more harassment after reporting their harassment.
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- Bukhari, A. (2020). Silent battles: How Pakistani women counter harassment in cyberspace. The Diplomat. https://thediplomat.com/2020/10/silent-battles-how-pakistani-women-counter-harassment-in-cyberspace/
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