B4A and P@SHA host VAW & ICT event for legal community
As Policy Advocacy is a key component of P@SHA’s mandate, we have partnered with Bytes for All, a South Asia wide regional ICT network of professionals and practitioners (of which I too am a member), on a two year project entitled “Strengthening Women’s Strategic Use of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) to combat Violence against Women (VAW) and girls.
The basic goal of the project is to help create a global community of women from diverse professions and fields of expertise who will then critically take up ICT tools and use them to combat violence against women which is prevalent in the society.
As part of this project, P@SHA and B4A have already started a series of activities the most significant one being the Take Back the Tech Campaign which was 16 days of activism to combat VAW and ICT.
On January 30, part of the team which included Shahzad Ahmad of B4A, Fariha Akhtar, a strong TBTT Activist and I travelled to Lahore to hold seminar for the legal community. The purpose was to create a awareness about ICT & VAW and the implications of various government policies on women. Spearheading the organizational task of putting this event together in Lahore was Advocate Nighat Dad, who is also part of the project team.
I must admit that I had doubts about the number of lawyers who would show up but our superwoman Advocate Nigi (as Fariha referred to her in her presentation) did a tremendously effective job of getting about 80 lawyers from the Lahore High Court, media and a couple of educationalists to this extremely important session. The Honourable Justice (Retired) Nasira Iqbal who is the President of the Lahore High Court Bar Association was the Guest of Honour. Retired Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court the Honourable Mian Allah Nawaz was the Chief Guest.
The session started with a Welcome address and an overview of the MDG3 Project from Shahzad Ahmad, B4A Pakistan. He explained in very clear and coincise terms why, who and what the project was about. He explained that is was an APC Women’s Networking Supoort Programme which is being financed through a grant from the MDG3 Fund: Investing in Equality and is being implemented in 12 countries including Pakistan. The project, Shahzad explained, included conducting research and analysis on policy issues related to women’s right and ICTs; promoting women’s engagement in ICT policy spaces that impact on women’s right and gender equality, designing and implementing ICT-enabled interventions, localizing the annual Take Back the Tech campaign and administering small grants for women’s ICT development projects.
Then I made a presentation on the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Ordinance (PECO) and its possible impact on women if the Ordinance was not redrafted. I pointed out the problems with the definitions, the excessive powers given to agencies, the lack of protection built in for individuals and businesses and the lack of any chain of custody and judicial oversight. In addition, I also pointed out that there was no way that, in its current form, this legislation would be effective. I also pointed that that some parts of the Ordinance were actually in contravention of Articles 13, Article 19 and 24 of the Constitution. I asked the legal community to get involved, to join hands with civil society, with women’s rights organisations and with business to ensure that any legislation that was drafted protected the citizens as well as the State.
In her presentation, young Fariha Akhtar gave an overview of how technology was a great enabler for women and women’s rights organisations as well as opening up ways and means for criminals and perpetrators to further harrass women and girls thus adding to the violence that already existed. She spoke about the Take Back the Tech campaign which was meant to create an awareness of VAW and ICT. Pakistan this year has been an active part of this global campaign and Fariha explained how we had engaged the media, bloggers, tweeples and women’s organizations to spread the word regarding TBTT. This included producing postcards, writing blog posts, articles in magazines, press conferences, interviews with electronic media, using Facebook, Youtube and Twitter to disseminate information about how to keep yourself safe online.
The Q&A session that followed was very interactive. Many of the young lawyers – mostly women – had lots of questions and suggestions and seemed extremely enthusiastic about collaborating with us on policy.
Former Chief Justice (Retired) Mian Allah Nawaz addressed the gathering and said that technology while being highly useful and empowering, can be at the same time highly dangerous as well. He said technology can facilitate and distract. Lawyers, he said, must be aware of the “deviant behaviour of cyber technology”. Laws, he said, cyber or otherwise, should be made through debative, argumentative and counter argumentative procedures.
Justice (Retd) Nasira Iqbal suggested the formation of a Technical Committee at the Lahore High Court Bar Association l which could assist in assessing and offering analysis of cyber laws and laws that affect women. She also requested P@SHA and B4A to organize training sessions at the Judicial Academy.
Some of the lawyers suggested that we should hold TBTT awareness sessions at schools and colleges and they volunteered to collaborate with us as did some of the educational institution representatives who were present.
All is all a great and invigorating event that will lead to the legal community, the IT community and civil society joining hands to help the government to come up with policies that are effective for the country and yet do not infringe on citizen rights.
Here is the link to Fariha’s presentation: TBTT Storytelling session with lawyers in Lahore.
Nighat and Fariha putting together the collateral and the documents in the TBTT bags.
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