Swat workshop on Internet Rights are Human Rights

By Tehmina Zafar

Swat – home town of Malala Yousafzai, once known for Taliban influenced area, is now turning another leaf of the book of time. Many women rights defenders are surfacing from a once conservative knitted society like Nobel Prize winner Malala. She approached the world as a school girl blogging from Taliban held territory.

But situation in Swat was not so flowery few years back in 2009, a video surfaced on social media from Swat where Taliban were shown flogging a 17-year-old girl. She was accused of having extramarital relations while her husband was in another city for work. The video spread through social media to mainstream media generated much debate on the declining state of woman rights, absence of rule of law in the region. The video was shot with a smartphone, declared fake earlier this year by the Supreme Court. Many still think the woman was under a lot of pressure to deny she was in the video or because of the fear of losing face.

This incident suggested the need to address human right issues, especially pertaining to women and in the context of using technology particularly after the Taliban regime who only showed the suppression. APC’s project in Asia, namely IMPACT promises to continue our efforts to make more and more human rights defenders and media persons aware of their rights and responsibilities in online spaces in the country. IMPACT’s country partner in Pakistan Bytes for All traveled to Swat to capacitate human rights defenders and lawyers working on women’s issues in the valley. The objective of two days capacity building workshop was to make the set of target groups aware of digital spaces and associated rights, and also to sensitize on the issues of securing their digital communications and digital lives. The workshop also intended toprovide locals with an opportunity to reclaim the use of digital media and tools to publicize their work and ideologies.

Also, this workshop turned into an opportunity for the IMPACT team to explore and find out how people particularly women are using digital spaces to exercise their rights of free expression, association and assembly and to develop an understanding of the people on online privacy issues. Recently, two women have won different awards for their contribution to women empowerment in spaces no one would consider women taking part.

Tabasum Adnan became the first women, founder of non-governmental organization Jirga (traditional court), a space that is fundamentally representing male domination and authority to solve local issues. Facing many hurdles and push backs, she was also eventually invited to become a member of an all-male Jirga thus taking part in the decision making process. In 2014, she was also a nominee for the N-Peace Empowerment Award, and in 2015, she won a U.S. State Department International Women of Courage Award. She actively used Facebook as tool to raise her voice.

Another pride of Swat is a 14 years old activist of women rights, Hadiqa Bashir, who received the Asian Girls Human Rights Ambassador award to raise voice against early age marriages and girls education.

Swat has a high literacy rate in the whole province Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and people of Swat have been actively engaged in defending human rights for quite sometime. Geographically, a mountainous terrain Swat was a princely state till 1969 and at many points in history, has been gaining importance with its serenity and peaceful atmosphere. Yet there have been situations when this peace and tranquility was hit and the rights of people were held hostage. It is one of the worst hit areas by Pakistani Taliban– the radical groups. After 2009, the Taliban were push out of this region. And now as the region is thriving again, the people are more determined than before and importantly realising the importance of digital age in their lives. Through workshop our engagement with the local Human rights groups tells that they are having a keen interest to explore the possibilities and despite cultural restrictions, they are open to working women as more than half of our trainees turned out to be women – young, energetic and ambitious.

Talking about our engagements in the area, it was a two day training workshop where the trainers discussed freedom of expression, freedom of association and assembly, right to information, privacy rights and digital security hands-on session with the participants. The participants were keen to talk about digital rights and shared some examples from their areas that how lack of understanding of digital media usage is landing users particularly women in trouble. As usual, the participants appreciated the digital security hands-on session that allowed them to explore and use safe and secure means to communicate online. Asking questions and getting understanding of the concepts of online freedoms and rights showed how keen the participants are to use online spaces for assembly and opinion generation.

To our shock impact of conservative times of terror is still alive on society a day before our arrival in Swat, a girl was killed in the name of honour. The only accusation was that she used to talk long hours on a mobile phone and her family suspected she is having an affair. Our local contact also told us that it has become so customary that every now and then a boy and a girl will be killed in the name of honour and bodies thrown in River Swat. No one raises a question or objection to a missing family member because this has so much become like a cultural and social norm in upper areas of Swat Valley.

We left Swat after two days making this pledge to ourselves to focus more on digital security for human rights; especially to save human lives too and promised to come back with more information and knowledge to share with the locals.

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