Issues and Challenges


Imagine waking up one morning to the alarm bell on the side table, 30-years back; the practice of newspaper reading, the landline phones with limited connectivity, letter writing through postal dispatches with no emails on the phone, no instant messaging on the go, no internet connectivity and no social media updates! No online meetings, online shopping, online billings and online business. The past three decades have changed exponentially, quickly and for better or for worse; the debate stays active, whereas the pros and cons list goes on and on!

A drastic and substantial increase in information and communication technology has affected almost everything around the globe; from major to minor, superficial to meaningful, grand to small-scale, transnational to inter-communal, businesses, trade, production, education, management, services, infrastructure, communication systems and so on and so forth. It has manifested the creation of an intangible world full of ideas and creativity — globally intertwined and exposed; connected and susceptible, interdependent and insecure to a great extent. The world today faces challenges of ‘novel’ origin in all domains. The intangibility of this ‘cyber space’ that exists makes the phenomenon arduous to understand, difficult to deal with and challenging to resolve, all at the same time.
The impact of information and communication technology has trickled down to every part of the society affecting the social and personal lives of individuals all across the globe in a positive light, but also leaves the lives of many exposed to certain challenges. This impact has penetrated into everyday life in many different ways and cyber violence is one of its most predominant vices. It extends across the continents, with no disparity between the developed and the developing world. This peril is affecting the world where everyone is victimized in general and not just in gender specific domain, nevertheless, women and girls are a target in specific.
A number of factors have contributed to the widespread cybercrimes, which include an ease of access to the internet, excessive use of smart phones, exhaustive and imprudent social media consumption and a lack of awareness about safe practices in the digitalized world, which is now overladen with internet and communication technology. Cyber Violence Against Women and Girls (CVAWG) is a phenomenon that evolved as an after-effect of this rapid digitalization and excessive commercial as well as domestic internet usage.
Internet is accessed by millions of women all across the world for the purpose of personal and official use. The domains extend from personal communication on social media such as Facebook and Instagram to education, business, etc., which besides benefiting  everyone also makes them vulnerable to exploitation and harassment. The main reason for women being a target of online harassment is due to inherent exploitable features pertaining to unsafe internet practices. This is primarily due to lack of awareness and minimal laws in action, specifically gender-specific laws. The cyber-sphere related crime lacks mechanism for appropriate and timely reporting of incidents whereas in many instances cases are not reported due to the fear of exploitation. In addition, due to the intangible nature of evidence, several cybercrime incidents are considered trivial or are not reported in first place. These threats were never expected a decade ago when utilization of the internet was limited. 3G and 4G advancements have exponentially increased dependence on the internet in all segments of the society posing equally greater risk to the users.
Cyber violence comes in a variety of forms including harassment, threats, trafficking and non-consensual video recording. All this is demeaning and ignominious for the victims who are exposed to innumerable obstacles in either reporting the incidents, or gathering the courage to disclose the blackmailer. These events are disturbing in nature and lead to a variety of stressors including psychological, economic and physical impact, which in turn can lead to a cyclic chain of events that are unending, resulting in, any one or an amalgam of, suicidal tendency, increased distress, quitting workplace, self-isolation, low self-esteem and physical assaults. 
The virtual incidences have a drastic impact that is long-term and critical. Cyber assault and cybercrime can extend over an array of incidents including stalking, harassment or obscene visualization, offensive electronic messaging, sharing photos without consent, inappropriate emails with verbal or comment abuse, threat of violence, bullying, defamation and hate speech. According to a report on cybercrime released by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) for the year 2014-15, 45% of the victims were females. Also, the rate of cybercrime has increased in the past five years as per reported crimes, which included victimized Pakistani women from across all the provinces. 
Intervention is required to find a solution to cybercrime of all sorts, especially against women and girls, with prompt response and focus on justice, paying heed to the victim’s perspective and prevention of re-victimization. A set of rules can be ensured to identify and analyze risk factors that trigger victimization, e.g., age, occupation, socio-cultural background, ethnicity, level of awareness and urban/rural dwelling, which are paramount to assess risk and hence mitigate the crime rate. 
The legislation on cybercrime offers a number of acts that deal with crime relating to online offenses and harassment. However, there is room for improvement, specifically to protect women. Many laws in the digital domain are also applicable to online offences and they need to be circulated with the masses, especially people using the internet and smart phones, to make them more aware. There is dire need to raise awareness amongst the active internet users with regard to safe practices in using social media and other forums. The internet itself can be used as the core forum to disseminate information about safe practices. Social media websites should improve visibility and raise awareness in order to ensure optimal privacy. Internet connectivity should be regularized and procedures must be channelized to a greater extent with the help of proper investigation into cybercrimes that can aptly look for any misuse or abuse, simultaneously, in the run time. Protocols for making online complaints should be made easier and convenient. Moreover, prompt action must be taken in order to make procedures swift and efficient. 
A safer cyber world can enhance opportunities for employment, business and income revival. The vices related to internet usage need to be mitigated efficiently. Communities and state economies can take greater advantage from the use of cyber space for online business. Women constitute a large proportion of overall internet users in Pakistan and the same demographic segment offers an attractive clientele in terms of both consumer and producer for cyber related business. The same sector is also affected by cybercrime constituting nearly fifty percent of the reported cases according to reports, which can hinder the progress and involvement by this segment in contributing to overall community welfare. HH

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