Women must report online scams and gain awareness of the avenues that exist to protect them, experts stressed during a panel discussion at the Women of the World Festival 2023 on Saturday.
“Why do some women fall for online scams? What are the gaps?” asked Hyra Basit, the Programme Manager for Digital Rights Foundation’s Cyber Harassment Helpline, while moderating the discussion titled “Protecting yourself online”.
This year’s festival was organised by the British Council at Karachi’s Beach Luxury Hotel.
Dr Saiqa Imtiaz Asif, vice chancellor of the Government Sadiq College Women University Bahawalpur and an activist for women’s education and development, said that in a number of cases, women were “soft targets” for scammers.
She narrated an incident of a girl at her university who was a victim of online harassment and blackmail.
Dr Saiqa said the girl was willing to come forward and take action against the culprit but the social and logistical setup of policies as well as laws stopped her from doing so.
“In southern Punjab, there is only a single cybercrime office,” she said. “The FIA (Federal Investigation Agency) office informed us that there are 13,500 such cases registered at their office.
She pointed out that even when the victim wanted to pursue action against a criminal, they are faced with a series of barriers such as travel expenses to get to the cybercrime office to file their complaint, multiple appearances at court hearings, paying for the outsourced composition of the victim’s phone data and hiring a lawyer to fight her case.
“How many girls would go ahead and do that?” she questioned.
Dr Saiqa said that similarly, the girl she mentioned retreated and decided against pursuing her complaint. The culprit, against whom there was evidence, gained bail the next day even though his crime was a non-bailable offence, she said.
Anusheh Naveed Ashraf, who works for Uraan Welfare Foundation to provide financial access and empowerment to women, mentioned the troubles her gender faces due to online and informal financial transactions.
“A lot of times, women don’t [even] know where their CNICs are. They are with the male members of their family,” Ashraf said.