Zahra Sepehr – Wednesday 29th Sonbola 1396
I am entering the class of more than 25 young girls who are students of journalism and are interested to work in media. Everyday a new topic for discussion is presented and we share our experience about it. I request from each of them to write down their Facebook accounts and share it with me. I stated my purpose of creating a Facebook group for ease of contact. I collected the account names. I saw a lot nicknames among the accounts. I asked them: how many of you have put your own picture as profile picture? More than 15 of them raised their hand as sign of confirmation. I smiled bitterly and said: the best topic of discussion for today “As an Afghan woman, would you avoid to share your original picture and identity in social media?”
It is hot discussion, everyone shares her own findings and has to a lot to say. From different harassment of men to death threats of close relatives in order to save the name of the family. According to their saying, they are not safe with having a fake ID and receive so dirty messages and disturbances, what if it was a real identity?!
Some of them pointed that when a famous friend tags them in a post, they receive thousands of continuous friend requests which is tiring to even cancel it.
They were talking about their private messages confidently and sometimes with fear and embarrassment. These messages have different topics such as love, hate, insult, threats, encouragement, advice, marriage proposal, sexual requests, telephone number, home address, profession, and different promises. These are received from teenagers, elderly, religious scholars, politicians, celebrities, security force and even children.
More than 99 percent of these messages are unanswered, but among the senders there are people who continuously send messages for many years and this has become a daily habit for them.
These girls are not the only victims. Thousands of women in Afghanistan suffer from it. They cannot do anything else except silence and ignore the messages. Most of them choose to block but another annoyer sends message from a different ID.
These girls are not permitted due to social and traditional pressures to make these messages public so that the senders should be known and arrested. There are few countable women who did so. I and few other women shared the messages several times, but encountered with various social media reactions to such a level that our relatives and friends rebuked us. They forget that the only way to deal with such violence is to speak up and break the taboo which is governing the society. Though the usage of such approach is not very effective and would not bring a structural change because the foundation is corrupted.
These harassments and misogyny in social media cause psychological pressure on women, and to be unable to fight, it can increase violence against women.
As a woman rights activist and defense lawyer, many disputes and domestic violence cases were initiated from an inappropriate message, comment, share and tag in social media which in return becomes violence against women. Therefore, social media has caused some serious problems for society.
We should not always blame illiteracy, traditional society, and poverty as cause of increase for violence. Sometimes modern technology like internet which made the world smaller can cause serious harm if it is used improperly.
There is no law and system in Afghanistan to control Facebook or Tweeter users’ comments or in case of an imminent threat, they should be held accountable.
In this situation, everyone can do whatever they want. They can make fake accounts of girls and use their pictures as profile picture. They can blackmail and fabricate fake stories against a celebrity or any famous people. It has become so easy to judge about a person’s personality given the unlimited autonomy to do what you please. As a result, women are subject to more restriction and their freedom has been limited.
I know a lot of men who consider themselves democrat and liberal. They comment under every pictures of women who they befriended of followed. But they never share their sister, wife or mother’s picture. And when they are questioned, they would easily answer that only a coward can share their family’s pictures.
The first step to counter it is that the government must standardized social applications and for perpetrators must be punished for their actions. Students should be taught how to use social applications and what the harms are. Civil activists through advocacy should support women to change their mentality so that they should enabled to take actions themselves.
To decrease violence is not one person, organization or media’s job. This inhuman behavior needs cooperation and support of all social groups.
We should not remain silent while being questioned by future generation that what we have done to prevent violence against women through media.