The Helpline in Pakistan Protecting Women From Online Abuse and Harassment

The hotline offers a comprehensive suite of services for women facing online harassment.

The Digital Rights Foundation has established the first free helpline in Pakistan for women who experience online harassment.

Author Jasmina Schmidt:

Translation Jasmina Schmidt, 12.19.18

Harassment is not a trivial offence. Movements like #MeToo, and the media attention concerning it, have shown how often women can become victims of sexual violence and harassment. In the European Union, for example, 45 to 55 percent of women have already experienced sexual harassment. That is between 83 and 102 million women across the continent. Harassment can take many forms – physical, verbal and non-verbal. These non-verbal forms of sexual harassment also include online harassment, such as unwanted e-mails or SMS messages with explicit sexual and offensive content. On average, 11 percent of women in the EU have already received such messages, but this figure doubles for women between the ages of 18 and 29.

The statistics on violence against women and girls are alarming – in every corner of the world. Every year on 25 November, the UN launches its “16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence” campaign as part of International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

UN Women’s CEO Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcukader also visited Pakistan during this campaign, a country that experiences one of the highest rates of gender inequality and abuse. For example, according to the Global Gender Gap Index, Pakistan is the second worst performer, especially in terms of economic and political participation and equal opportunities. This spurred the creation of the hashtag #HearMeToo, which aims to focus on women and girls who have experienced harassment and violence, but which rarely make the headlines in mainstream media.

Telephone Support for Those Who Need It

As people globally move more of their life online, cyberbullying and other forms of online harassment, are increasing in importance, including in Pakistan. For this reason, the NGO Digital Rights Foundation has set up a helpline for victims of online harassment in the country. The aim of the free helpline is to offer advice to victims of online harassment, including legal advice, digital security support and psychological counselling, from its team of digital security experts, counsellors and lawyers.

Additionally, the foundation has developed an extensive document of principles and policies to ensure the protection and privacy of its callers, as well as promote its aims – which includes advancing “the perspectives and rights of internet users into the mainstream”.

Therefore this solution aims to not only address the problem of online harassment against women, but also to support women’s right to participate in online spaces, their freedom of expression and mental well-being. In traditionally conservative nations like Pakistan, women are often discouraged from participating in online discourse, and in some cases online harassment can also lead to offline and physical violence.

Since its inception in 2016, the hotline has received over 2,000 calls.

This is a translation by Mark Newton of an original article that first appeared on RESET’s German-language site.

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