NEW YORK - Pakistan's digital-rights advocate, Nighat Dad, has been named in the TIME magazine's list of next generation leaders, for helping Pakistani women fight online harassment.
Time’s next generation leaders programme aims to identify young innovative leaders who are leading by example and inspiring others to follow.
Dad, a 34-year-old lawyer, set up the Digital Rights Foundation (DRF), a non-profit organisation in 2012 to educate Pakistanis about their digital rights and how to respond to online harassment. It also campaigns against legislation that gives the government broad powers of surveillance online, and the dissemination of personal information collected by telecom firms regarding customers’ lives and habits to foreign and domestic state agencies and businesses.
“We tell Internet users how to adjust their privacy settings, to make sure they have secure connections, change their passwords regularly and not to share unnecessary information,” she was quoted as saying in a write-up introducing her. “And women should come seek help if they are targeted and not feel ashamed.”
The problem of online harassment is global, and across the world, young women are most at risk. A 2014 Pew survey found that 65 percent of Internet users aged 18 to 29 had been the target of online harassment, with young women suffering disproportionately high levels of online violence.
Twenty-six percent of women aged 18 to 24 reported being stalked online and 25 percent had suffered online sexual harassment. According to Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency, hundreds of cases of online sexual harassment are investigated each year, but many more likely go unreported.
While Dad has been campaigning for a comprehensive Cybercrime Bill in Pakistan for years, in recent times she has been trying to fight off government’s attempts to impose restrictions and surveillance under the garb of a cyber crime law.
Criticising the newly proposed Cyber Crime Bill, a joint statement by the DRF, Human Rights Watch and others said the bill while offering few protections, “writes a blank check for abuse and overreach of blocking powers.”
“Every new law has one or two provisions that are really about regulating Internet space in Pakistan,” Dad said, adding that she tries to explain laws in layman’s language to inform common people what the government is actually trying to do.