Women’s Access to Internet is our Goal
What tools, resources, and trainings would you like to have access to in order to feel more comfortable using the Internet?
As a woman I can feel comfortable online if I am aware of the types of policies that put an end to online bullying, sexist and racist behavior and of anti-discrimination and anti-bullying groups that condemn or report web forums and sites that do not take action to protect users from bullying. At the same time there needs to be more education about acceptable online behavior both at school and in the home. Role models who speak out against bullying and discriminatory behavior are also important to raising awareness about the effects of bullying and racist behavior. That way, when I identify behavior online that discriminates against a particular group, I automatically know what to do and whom to contact to stop this type of abuse.
•What challenges do you, and women in your community, face when learning to use the Internet? How have you overcome them?
Pakistan one is of the countries, where internet usage is increasing rapidly, mostly in the cities. However, 70% of the population lives in villages where in most of the areas there is no access to the schools. No electricity and no awareness of internet usage. There are thousands of schools where there is no teacher. Girls are not allowed to get education and those who are lucky enough to go to school, do not know about ways of accessing the internet. Although the government has provided computer centers in some schools, this is not compulsory. So, most of the students do not study computer science because they think it is difficult to learn.
Those who do are mainly boys. Because the literacy rate among males is much higher than females, they benefit from being able to use and understand information on the internet. Girls, on the other hand, have very limited access owing to high rates of illiteracy and to a lack of support from her family to get an education. Indeed, girls in my country are faced with so many problems, Girls get married very early and they have to produce eight or nine children; they cook food, wash clothes, clean home, look after the cattle and grow crops. As a result, they are prevented from being empowered and from being able to express themselves about the situation for girls in Pakistan.
Now more than ever the internet needs to be made more accessible to women. At the grassroots level women should be encouraged to establish internet cafes which offer a safe and nurturing environment for women without fear of being subjected to harassment. Educated women should be given computers and internet facilities for free for a few months so that they can familiarize themselves with their functionalities. Once they are accustomed to using them, they can train other women and educate them about ways of browsing the internet safely.
I believe that if all women have access to the internet, they will be free from violence and rape. Why? Because they will have awareness of their rights; they will have awareness of how to take a stand for their rights. They will find solution of their problems online. They will take care of their health and will be able to feel more in control of their own body.
Despite the challenges that I have had to face, I have forced myself to pursue my education so that I could teach other women and serve as a role model in my community. I have founded a school called the Zephaniah Free Education where girls and women come every day to learn about life skills, women’s rights, participate in vocational training programs, and of course are informed about the benefits of using the internet. I show them examples of websites where they can search for answers to their questions.
I have also received support from women from World Pulse and other organizations and social networks which focus on women’s empowerment. Through their help I have been able to continue my work and to realize my goal of opening a computer training center where my students will be able to use the internet to write blogs, share their stories on World Pulse or other platforms and inform about their situation in Pakistan. Knowing that readers will be reading and commenting on their stories will give them confidence in themselves and will make them feel appreciated and acknowledged. I also hope to perhaps establish an exchange between my students and students from other countries so that they learn more about each other’s cultures and make friends. Finally, I would like to set up an online mentoring/tutoring program with tutors and mentors so that my students can also feel supported and can develop relationships with people from around the world.
Have you helped train others on Internet use and digital literacy? How did you do it?
I feel fortunate enough to have received an education and to have not been restricted from using the internet. That’s why I have made it my goal to educate and empower women and girls. I teach them skills so that they can earn enough to buy what they need, then I teach them English and then I arrange an internet connection for them. Because I work in a Tele Com Company, I not only arrange new and cheaper connection for them, I also ask them to share the connection with other women in their neighborhood so that they can share the bills. I have done this for more than 200 girls in last 6 years. I teach them about the importance of using the internet to share their stories, how to look for information about leading a healthy life, questions that they have about women’s rights and what they can do to educate other girls in their community about speaking out against discrimination and gender violence.
So, we need to do only three things to make this dream come true which is what my slogan (AWEEI) stands for: women’s access to education, empowerment, and the internet. And this is what I have been doing from the age of 13 in Pakistan. Although I have very limited sources, I have dedicated myself entirely to these goals. My hope is to bring every women of my world to AWEEI