Tag Archives: Pakistan

The use of mobile devices for sexual harassment in Pakistan


Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) continue dramatically to change our lives.  This is especially true with the rapid expansion of mobile devices connected to the broadband in many of the poorer countries of the world.  Whilst this can bring very many benefits, there is also a darker side to their use; ICTs tend to act as accelerators, both of good and of bad things.  With the  corporate ICT sector wishing to highlight the positive contribution that it can make to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the negative impacts of ICTs usually receive far less attention.  There is, though, now a growing body of evidence that in some contexts these may well outweigh their positive impacts.

In the course of qualitative research in 2016 with Dr. Bushra Hassan (formerly of the University of Sussex, and now at the International Islamic University in IslamIdentity construction 2 copyabad) on the use of mobiles by young people in Pakistan as symbols shaping their identity (published in Information Technologies and International Development earlier in 2017), we discovered a striking level of concern over the use of mobile devices for sexual harassment. The commentary below on Mobilink’s controversial advertisement at the time of our research, for example, highlights some of the tensions in what is widely seen as being a tightly constrained society with very traditional values.

Mobilink

We therefore decided to explore more about the use of mobiles for sexual harassment in Pakistan, and enlisted the help of Dr. Akber Gardezi (COMSATS Institute of Information Technology).  Together, we constructed and distributed a largely quantitative online survey in Pakistan in November and December 2016, and submitted a paper summarising the outcomes of this research early in 2017 to a special issue of ITID on Gender, Mobile and Mobile Internet.  At the time, we considered this to be one of the largest and most rigorous studies of the subject in Pakistan, and indeed few other studies have been as comprehensive anywhere in the world.  Subsequently, important new research has also been published about Pakistan especially by the Digital Rights Foundation.  The peer review process associated with academic journals meant that we could not release any of our results at that time.  We had hoped, though, that the full paper would have been published in time to coincide with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on 25th November.  Given delays in the production process, we are delighted now therefore to have received permission from the editorial team to release some of our most salient findings.

More than 2000 people opened the survey, and we had 530 completed responses from people from all walks of life in Pakistan.  The survey itself explored both perceptions and experiences of sexual harassment through the use of mobile devices in Pakistan, and we were able to disaggregate and analyse the data in terms of a range of socio-cultural characteristics including age, gender, ethnicity, religion, occupation and place of residence.

Some of our most important findings are as follows:

  • Mobiles are mainly used to harass women sexually, although men are also harassed; 48% of women and 18% of men in our survey had been sexually harassed through their mobile devices.
  • Direct messages and phone calls are slightly more frequently used than online social media for sexual harassment: 17.5% of respondents who were harassed claim to be receiving daily text messages harassing them sexually, and 11.9% receive daily phone calls doing likewise.  It is therefore crucial to note that surveys that only focus on online harassment miss more than half of the ongoing sexual harassment that exists.
  • There is considerable uniformity in the perceptions about and experiences of sexual harassment through mobile devices among people from different socio-cultural backgrounds.  Only about 10% of the many statistical tests that we undertook showed significant differences, and where there were differences these were usually relating to the gender, occupation or location of the respondents.
  • One of the most striking findings from our research concerns blame attribution: 54% of all respondents thought the when a women is sexually harassed through her mobile device she is always or sometimes to blame.  Only 38% of respondents thought that a man was to blame when he is harassed sexually.
  • The impact of sexual harassment through mobile devices on people living in Pakistan has a terrible cost: 53% of respondents claimed that they knew someone personally who had tried to commit suicide as a result of sexual harassment through their mobile devices; and a shocking 52% of respondents claimed to know someone who had been killed because of a loss of honour as a result of sexual harassment through mobile devices.  Blackmail is widespread.
  • Four main reasons were cited to explain why mobile devices are specifically used for sexual harassment: it is easy to send multimedia content using mobiles; mobiles can be used to target people at a distance; it is quick to use mobiles to harass people; and the perpetrators can easily hide their identities.  Our paper goes into much more depth as to how social and cultural factors influence such harassment specifically in Pakistan; women much more than men consider that patriarchy is particularly important in causing such harassment.
  • The three most important ways through which such harassment can be reduced were considered to be: requiring social media companies to monitor and delete users who sexually harass others; increasing penalties for sexual harassment; and requiring mobile operators to provide a free reporting service.  With respect to the last of these, it was great to see the Digital Rights Foundation opening a toll-free hotline (0800-39393) in December 2016 for victims of online harassment and violence.

Almost half of all respondents also provided detailed qualitative responses to many of the issues we raised in the survey, and we are immensely grateful to all those who took the time to reply.  For the full paper, which provides very much more detail on all of the above, do keep an eye open for the next issue of ITID (Hassan, B., Unwin, T. and Gardezi, A. “Understanding the Darker Side of ICTs: Gender, Sexual Harassment, and Mobile Devices in Pakistan”, Information Technologies and International Development, in press).

We are now undertaking directly comparable online surveys in the Caribbean and in India to examine how perceptions and experiences of the use of mobiles for sexual harassment vary across the world.  Please share the links below with people you know in these regions to encourage them to contribute to the survey so that we can get as diverse and large samples as possible:

It is time that all of us combine our efforts to reduce sexual harassment through mobile devices.  Such harassment is a horrible form of violence and abuse, and it particularly affects women.  Men especially therefore need to take greater action to influence each other in changing their behaviours so that the full benefits of ICTs may indeed be experienced by women across the world.

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Filed under 'phones, Ethics, ICT4D, mobile phones, Pakistan, Sexual harassment, social media

“Indian Treasures”: exhibition at gettyimages gallery in London


IT1The small Indian Treasures exhibition on until the 7th October at the gettyimages gallery on Eastcastle Street (near Oxford Circus tube station) in London, is an amazing opportunity to see photographs of “India” dating from the mid-19th century.  It has been well curated, and represents a collection of very diverse photographs, drawn mainly from a European gaze on “British India”.  However, the collection also includes photographs from Indian photographers, and illustrates seven themes: photographs by Samuel Bourne between 1863 and 1870; sun pictures from the 19tb century, illustrating both landscapes and people; methodologies, including four tinted photocrom prints; images by the photojournalist Felice Beato; studio portraiture; Princes of India; and the work of the London Stereoscope Company.

The exhibition raises so many fascinating questions, especially at a time when we “celebrate” 70 years of the independence of India and Pakistan, and remember the many atrocities that accompanied the birth of these two countries.  In particular, it highlights the way in which imagery was used to reinforce cultural stereotypes, and also the use of photography in the 19th century to capture what are seen as particular racial types.

IT2I was particularly struck by comparisons between the countries in the 19th century and how they are seen today:

  • Most photographs displayed were of India, rather than Pakistan, although mosques in Lucknow and Delhi were indeed depicted alongside temples from Tamil Nadu;
  • The pictures generally depict a very clean and tidy India, with relatively smart new buildings and largely empty streets, a far cry from the hustle and bustle of the modern sub-continent;
  • The mountain scenes from the Himalayas, which are a wonderful resource for learning more about environmental change, and especially glacial retreat;
  • Jantar Mantar (described as the Old Observatory) near Delhi is shown apparently in an almost empty landscape, far removed from the urban  landscape that surrounds it today;
  • The shell marks on the walls of the Shahi Mosque at Qudsia Bagh serve as a reminder of the violence and atrocities of the war known by the British as the “Indian Mutiny”; and
  • It is a very male view – especially of the haunted faces of teh seemingly aloof and distant India princes; women appear mainly as nautch girls, although there is also a fascinating image of women at a bathing  ghat on the Ganges near Benares.

Above all, I was left with huge admiration of the work of photographers from a century and a half ago, who dragged their cameras and equipment across the continent to “capture” these haunting memories of India’s treasures.  This is an exhibition to be savoured and enjoyed.  Not only are the images stunningly evocative, but they also force us to rethink our understandings of the British Raj.

 

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Perceptions and experiences of sexual harassment through mobile devices in Pakistan


Together with Dr. Bushra Hassan, and building on my research earlier this year on how people in Pakistan use mobile devices to express their identities, we have developed a survey on people’s perceptions and experiences of sexual harassment through mobile devices in the country.  This is a sensitive and difficult subject, and we are eager to have responses from as many people as possible.  I do hope that readers of this post will share the details through their networks, and if they are Pakistani will complete it themselves. The survey is available until the end of November 2016 at https://rhul.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/sexual-harassment-through-mobile-devices-in-pakistan.

survey-pakistan

Thanks so much in anticipation.

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Murree, Pakistan, 1946-2016


My father spent time in Pakistan in 1946, and it is some 70 since then that I now have the privilege of  visiting the country for the first time.  During the 1939-45 war, he had served in the Signals with the 8th Indian Division, and had been in North Africa, and then fought with them up the eastern coast of Italy.  At the end of the war he had returned with them to India, and particularly to the north-west, in the towns of what became Pakistan after partition in 1947.  The time he spent here was one of the happiest  of his life, and I particularly remember stories he told about the times he spent in Murree and Tret to the north east of Rawalpindi.  Islamabad had not even been thought of by then.

The opportunity to run a workshop for the Ministry of IT and another under the auspices of the Inter-Islamic Network for IT over the last fortnight provided me with a chance to visit some of the places he had known and told me about many years ago, and it was wonderful to experience the magic of the landscape and generosity of the people in this particular part of Pakistan.

IMG_5679Just before I left, my mother showed me an old map, dating from 1945, on which he had depicted the route he had followed across India, highlighted with a black pen.  The map as a whole provides fascinating insights into what the sub-continent looked like before the traumatic events of partition in 1947.  Murree is clearly shown, as befits its role as the summer capital of the Punjab Province until 1864, and its beautiful position as well as its relatively cooler climate makes it clear why it was such a popular location, particular for the British living in India.  Indeed, it had recently snowed when I visited, even though the weather was much warmer only a relatively short distance away in Islamabad.

My father had taken some pictures of his time at Murree, and in the village of Tret approximately mid-way between Murree and Islamabad in April 1946, and these provided me with an amazing opportunity to compare how things had changed.  First, was the view of the mountains of Kashmir from Kashmir Point in Murree

Kashmir Point 1946 Kashmir Point 3

It was extraordinary to have been able to find almost exactly where he must have stood to take his photograph, and almost equally interesting to note how rather little must have changed since he had been there.  He would certainly have recognised my photographs!

He had also taken a photograph of a street scene in Murree, which included a Lloyds Bank building.  Unfortunately I was not able to find it any more, but the accompanying photograph shows how very much more crowded the streets are today than they were 70 years ago!

Lloyds MurreeStreet scene

 

 

 

 

 

My father clearly loved the mountains and landscapes, and took several photographs of these.  Again, I attach one below (labelled “Hills from Murree Road – 5000 feet”), together with one of the hills between Tret and Murree today, albeit from a different viewpoint.  Both pictures  illustrate a typical settlement on the top of the hills in the mid-distance, but a contrast between them is the difference in forest cover.

Hills from Murree roadHills

 

 

 

 

 

I was not able to find exactly where he was based while in Tret, but the photo on the left below shows a 1946 view of the military encampment there with the village in the background on the hill top, and to the right my 2016 photo which might just be of the same buildings.  The photo on the right is also particularly interesting because it shows many black flags flying on the buildings, indicating that these houses belong to some of the Shia minority.

Tret 2016Tret 1946

 

 

 

 

 

Sadly I was not able to locate the old regimental animal lines shown in the picture on the left below, but have matched it with a view of Tret today on the right.  My father had been a keen polo player, and had become very fond of one of his horses (Bellezza) in particular, and I recall him being very sad that he had to leave the horse behind on his next assignment. Remarkably, on returning to Islamabad, a friend told me that the old polo ground is still there, and had managed to survive encroachment from the bus station.  Next time I visit Pakistan I will have to return and try to find it.

Daddy's horses Tret 3

 

 

 

 

 

I’m so grateful to everyone who made this visit possible and particularly colleagues in the Ministry of IT, my security team (below), and Asim Malik who accompanied me.

Tret security copy

 

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