ISLAMABAD: The Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) has expressed concerns over the ongoing surveillance of women and girls in private spaces through unregulated CCTV cameras in women’s shelters, hostels, universities, and salons, invading their right to privacy and dignity in private spaces.

According to the 2023 Gender Gap report, Pakistan ranks 142 out of 146 countries in terms of gender parity, including economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment.

The DRF statement said that women are already exceedingly subjected to gender-based violence, harassment, and social surveillance by society, which in turn pushes them to seek refuge in gender-segregated private spaces such as these.

With women’s participation being severely limited and restricted in the country, they are significantly more financially dependent, prompting them to look towards spaces like Darul Amans. Women residing in Darul Amans were largely vulnerable, particularly when they face little to no familial support and seek refuge.

The DRF has said that women living in these shelters have also complained of gross mistreatment and abuse at the hands of those in charge at these centres.

The DRF has referred to the Rawalpindi Darul Aman incident and the Lahore women’s hostel where hidden cameras were found on the premises of the building.

These repeated instances of CCTV cameras being installed in private spaces under the guise of safety, and the footage being misused, serve as a direct invasion of privacy and threat to women’s physical safety, creating a hostile environment of mistrust and insecurity among women at large.

The DRF report also referred to CCTV cameras installed in women’s salons, where the footage and data have later been employed as blackmail material.

In 2019, students from the University of Balochistan protested in the wake of CCTV camera footage being used by security personnel to harass and blackmail students and women on campus.

The DRF’s Cyber Harassment Helpline has so far received 16,849 complaints from across Pakistan, with 58.5 per cent of them from women. The DRF added that there was a rising trend where women were captured on camera without their consent, in addition to the misuse of their intimate images through blackmail and intimidation.

The DRF has demanded transparent investigations into these violative incidents related to employing unregulated CCTV cameras that violate women’s privacy by the Ministry of Human Rights and IT Ministry.

They also demanded the involvement of women’s rights and digital rights groups in consultations around the proposed data protection bill to address the existing gaps.

Published in Dawn, June 8th, 2024

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