AFGHANISTAN: I Don't Need You to Protect Me From the Internet
Growing up in surroundings hostile to women going online strengthened Rabia's resolve to get connected.
I was in eleventh grade when I created my first email account with the help of a male colleague from the center where I was teaching. My sister gave me her engagement ring to wear so that this colleague would not misunderstand me going with him alone to an Internet club—an action most girls in Afghanistan would not commit.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been dependent on men for access to Internet, which has created difficulties for me even beyond access challenges faced by everyone in my country.
As a girl, I learned the basics of computers from my younger brother who had his own computer. We still did not have access to the Internet on that computer because it was expensive and my father believed it could ‘corrupt’ my siblings and me.
One time I begged and begged my uncle to go with me to an Internet club so that I could create an email account and get more information about Asian University for Women, a university in Bangladesh that I had been accepted to. This never happened; either he was ashamed to be seen in an Internet club with a girl or he was ashamed to reveal that he also did not know much.
Everything changed when I started University. Here I have a free and fast connection. Here I am encouraged to use the Internet for all the opportunities it can provide me. I can have as many accounts as I want. I can make online accounts for others who either don’t know how or have never had access to make one. Counter to expectations, I now know more about the Internet than the colleague who helped me create my first email account. I now know more than my brother and my uncle.
I felt very unsafe when my brother knew more than me. He could literally control my actions online and offline just because he had access to computer courses which I, as a girl, did not. The lack of female-friendly environments for learning and accessing the Internet and the dependency on men for knowledge has motivated me to learn more. Today I am working on a minor in computer science.
However, even now, despite all these amazing benefits, I also experience the bad sides of the Internet, such as spam and cyber-bullying. Anything I post on Facebook, the type of clothes I wear in my profile picture, and the type of friends I have—whatever information about me is out there—is immediately reported to my family. As a girl who uses the Internet, I always hear things like, “You’ve been wasting your time on the Internet,” or, “Do you have someone (meaning someone male) that you are talking to?”
The Internet is a space where every male subject of my society wants to control me so that they can ‘protect’ me. This control can be very effective in keeping me away from logging on and participating fully.
I have written about myself and my dreams, about sex education, about menstruation, and many other topics on World Pulse and yet have not had the guts to share these same things with the ordinary Afghan people on other websites such as Facebook because I am afraid it will be perceived wrong. What I share online can easily make me look like a ‘loose’ girl.
The Internet, however, does not know if you are a girl or a boy, if you have short hair or long, if you are a Muslim or a Christian. All it knows is that you are a user and want information. It has been like a friend to me. It has opened a doorway to the world and allowed me to fully experience what I could have missed before. It not only helps women in our own personal development, it can help us find information about our health and other matters that impact all of society. It gives me a purpose and helps me to be part of a bigger picture. Through my access to the Internet, I am able to ensure that my sister also has it. This experience has become my fight against all the limitations I faced before. I am now confident in myself that I can do what I choose and stand for what I believe.