Wednesday, May 27, 2020
REFILE-INTERVIEW -Pakistan's 'honour killings' show women need digital skills, says Facebook oversight board member
By Zofeen T. Ebrahim
The sisters were shot dead last week in Pakistan's remote North Waziristan, the latest victims of a conservative honour code which has led to hundreds of deaths, including the 2016 strangling of social media star Qandeel Baloch by her brother.
"The Waziristan killings highlight how the internet can be used against women, especially in a patriarchal society like Pakistan's," said Nighat Dad, a Pakistani lawyer who founded the country's first cyber-harassment helpline.
"Because more and more people are getting access to technology, its dark side is also becoming visible, with the onslaught of the entire spectrum of harassment brought into the virtual world."
Dad has achieved global prominence for her work to protect women online in a country where their modesty is prized and they are often not allowed to work outside the home, fraternise with men or choose their own husbands.
After winning recognition as one of Time magazine's next generation of leaders in 2015 and a Human Rights Tulip award in 2016, this month Dad joined what some have dubbed Facebook's "Supreme Court" to rule on whether certain content is allowed.Most of the calls to the Digital Rights Foundation advocacy group, which Dad founded in 2012 with a focus on protecting women online, are about revenge porn - the blackmail of women by ex-partners or boyfriends over online posts of intimate images."There are pockets of people on the internet that find and leak footage of women without their consent," the 39-year-old told the Thomson Reuters Foundation."This online activity has very severe consequences for women ... in some segments of Pakistani society, a woman's worth is measured using her 'honour', and the moment she 'dishonours' her family, she is often made to pay with her life."
The murder of the two teenage girls has sparked debate in Pakistan around women's digital safety, with the women who shared news of the killings also coming under fire online.
Dad said women needed the autonomy to control their own digital presence, rather than being stopped from using the internet at all, which many men tried to do after social media star Baloch's murder in 2016."There was a real fear that (women) could be killed for their online activities, even for so much as owning a phone," Dad said, adding that distress calls to her charity surged by 50% in the wake of the killing."There needs to be work done on laws and implementation, as well as building better channels of reporting content against women on social media platforms and the internet," she said.Dad, who has green streaks in her hair because "colours make me feel lively", understands the challenges of Pakistani women, who make up about 25% of the country's labour force, one of the lowest rates in the region, according to the World Bank.
"Growing up in an ultra-conservative Pakistani household turned me into a feminist," said Dad, a single mother who has survived domestic abuse and workplace harassment.
"It was a constant struggle for me to beg my older brother to let me study, to let me buy a computer (from my own savings), to let me pursue a career."
When studying law, Dad found herself drawn to Punjab University's new computer lab.
"I learnt to go into chat rooms and start conversations with random strangers. I found it liberating that I could engage in a conversation without fretting what people around me would say or even stop me," she said.
She decided to work in technology because "I realised how male-dominated it was, and that if women were to feel safe and empowered, they needed to take on leadership roles in policy making and digital rights".
It is not just digital rights that Dad advocates for.
"I want young women who have aspirations and are motivated to be able to pursue their dreams," she said.
Forgive me for shedding light on Poliovirus in the midst of novel coronavirus but when I heard of the first positive case of coronavirus in Pakistan, I was shaken to my core and for the right reasons. Pakistan is a country which has until now, lost its battle against Poliovirus. As long as there is even one child who contracted Poliovirus, the battle is considered lost. The reason is simple: children are precious to Pakistan, they’re the future and as long as they’re under the threat of this crippling virus so is Pakistan’s future.
It must be emphasised that the fight against COVID-19 is important and the entire world is combating it but we have more battles to fight because we have failed to fight and we have those to protect whom we have failed to protect and while the developed nations of this world are fighting against COVID-19 with their full might, Pakistan can’t do the same. Pakistan needs policies and initiatives to protect its vulnerable children and to safeguard their lives. Pakistan must not win the battle against coronavirus only to lose the battle against Poliovirus, a battle which this nation was on the verge of winning. Pakistan must beat both the viruses.
The UNICEF report of May 2020 states, ‘the COVID-19 crisis is a child rights crisis. We need an immediate, medium and long-term response that not only addresses the challenges created by the pandemic and its secondary impacts on children, but also outline a clear version for building back a better world when the crisis finally recedes…It is our shared responsibility today, to reimagine what the world will look like tomorrow’.
Polio, the deadly viral disease, was very close to being eradicated states UNICEF, but that was before the outbreak of novel coronavirus struck the world.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Pakistan is one of only 2 remaining countries in the world with ongoing wild poliovirus transmission, Afghanistan being the other.
Nevertheless, my heart sank when I read a statement by Polio Oversight Board on the 2nd of April 2020 that the countries planning to conduct poliovirus preventative campaigns postpone these campaigns until the 1st of June 2020, they further stated, ‘we take this decision with deep regret, knowing more children may be paralyzed by polio as a result.’
If proper measures are not taken, poliovirus cases will surge, just like the novel coronavirus which went from 1 positive case to thousands in a span of weeks. Pakistan has to make efforts to nip the surge in the bud, before the cases increase to a significant extent.
History has evidence, in 2014, the number of poliovirus cases stood at 306 which dropped to 8 in 2017, and 12 in 2018. However, in 2019 there was a significant spread of the virus and 144 polio cases were reported across all provinces of Pakistan, as reported by the WHO. Currently (2020), the total number of poliovirus cases stand at 93 according to the Pakistan Polio Eradication Programme.
As long as the virus continues to circulate in Pakistan, no child in Pakistan is completely safe from contracting the poliovirus. This is why it is the shared responsibility of all Pakistanis to ensure that all vulnerable children under the age of five are vaccinated against this deadly disease, states UNICEF.
The latest update of May 2020 on Polio Eradication Programme Continuity: implementation in the context of the COVID-19 by Polio Global Eradication Initiative (GPEI) states that, ‘it is imperative for the polio eradication teams at the country, regional and global levels to build and implement robust systems for context and programme monitoring, and to adapt the eradication service delivery strategies to effectively mitigate the polio transmission risks…’
The children of Pakistan can not be ignored and hence allowed to be collateral damage in the war against novel coronavirus, Pakistan needs victory against both viruses or else, its economy will recover only to plummet again as a consequence of an increase in the number of poliovirus cases and that cannot be allowed. Poliovirus should not be completely ignored or the consequences will be wide ranging and severe.
Polio, the deadly viral disease, was very close to being eradicated states UNICEF, but that was before the outbreak of novel coronavirus struck the world
According to the National Emergency Action Plan For Polio Eradication (NEAP) 2020, after the increase in poliovirus cases in 2019, President Dr. Arif Alvi and Prime Minister Imran Khan personally took stock of the situation and the country decided that the programme shall be forthcoming on what’s not working, boldly address the underlying challenges, invest in people and systems, and rise above all affiliations, including political ones, to unite against this deadly virus.
The President and the Prime Minister should stay true to their intention and bowl out polio from Pakistan once and for all. The government needs to implement the guidelines on polio eradication programme in the context of the COVID-19 as stated in latest update of May 2020 on polio eradication programme continuity which rests the final decision on altering the implementation of polio eradication in the interim period of COVID-19 pandemic with the national authorities and includes, observing the principles of “duty of care” and “do no harm” to frontline workers and ensuring adequate residual capacity to manage, implement and regularly review the polio eradication programme’s continuity plan. This should include the capacity to effectively coordinate and oversee polio eradication activities included in the continuity plan.
The guidelines further state mobilising the government, healthcare providers and communities to develop flexible and safe polio eradication programme delivery strategies, aligned with broader immunization services tailored to the local COVID-19 epidemic situation and capacities.
Furthermore, all the polio personnel should be provided with the necessary briefing on adjustment of their roles in the context of COVID-19 outbreak. They should receive training, materials, protective equipment, and logistical support to ensure safe and effective delivery of their duties.
Certain measures need to be taken, which include, physical distancing, hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, ensuring only the physical proximity that is essential/unavoidable for delivering vaccine or specimen collection and handling.
Face masks, gloves, eye protection equipment and other gear appropriate to avoid the risks of COVID-19 need to be supplied. Hand hygiene supplies: e.g. hand sanitizers need to be distributed to the teams interacting with populations, soap should be distributed if access to water is guaranteed.
UNICEF reports that Pakistan is one of the South Asian countries with the highest expected numbers of births in the nine months since the COVID-19 pandemic declaration, which is 5 million. Pakistan needs to implement initiatives to safe its precious children from the Poliovirus.
The government needs to act in line with the guidelines as soon as the 1st of June 2020 and no later than that since according to the guidelines, delay of polio immunization campaigns will likely result in an increased geographic spread of the virus and an increase in the number of children paralyzed by wild and circulating vaccine-derived polioviruses. While the Chief Justice of Pakistan is busy taking suo moto actions on opening of markets on Saturday and Sunday in Pakistan, he needs to pay attention on poliovirus. My deepest sympathies remain with the patients and families of those affected by the novel coronavirus but my sympathies also remain with those affected by the Poliovirus.
By Umair Jamal
Will Islamabad be able to bring the pandemic under control?The government in Pakistan is considering the imposition of another countrywide lockdown if the COVID-19 situation continues to get worse. For Pakistan, flattening the curve and containing the virus’ spread by imposing a lockdown may have already become irrelevant. The utility of the lockdown was highest when the crisis was at an early stage and limited to Pakistan’s urban areas. With the virus’ spread now hitting all corners of the country and transmission patterns developing in rural areas, it is unclear if another lockdown is the solution or if it can be implemented at all.
Pakistan’s hospitals are already operating above their capacity and turning away patients. Officially, the tally of COVID-19 cases in Pakistan has surpassed 60,000. So far, more than 1,200 people have died all across Pakistan. During the last 24 hours alone, around 2,400 people affected by the COVID-19 were admitted to public hospitals or facilities created by the government. According to the latest figures, Pakistan only has around 4,000 ventilators, of which 2,200 are possessed by public sector hospitals. During the last two days, more than 150 people were put on the ventilators across the country.
Pakistan faces a serious crisis when it comes to tracking the pandemic’s spread, and monitoring the severity of the situation. The actual story of the crisis is far worse than being reported. The cases emerging in the major urban areas are the key focus for the health officials. Arguably, it’s one of the reasons that cities like Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, and Islamabad have recorded more cases than other places. Smaller cities and adjacent towns across Pakistan, which are not the focus of the public health officials, neither have the capacity nor infrastructure in place to handle COVID-19 cases or record them correctly for the national or international audience. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the current toll of fatalities from the COVID-19 cannot be gauged accurately in low or middle-income countries where only 30 percent of deaths take place in hospitals with known causes. This scenario is actually true for Pakistan as a growing number of people potentially dying from the virus only leave trails of breathing problems among their relatives and friends. On the other hand, in the country’s rural areas, no effort whatsoever is being made to either educate people of the virus’s threat or to test, track, and record cases.
According to a WHO report published last week, COVID-19’s local transmission in Pakistan has risen to 80 percent. By lifting the lockdown, the government may have created an opening for the virus’s spread that may have been nonexistent before. For instance, there is still an ongoing debate about whether the virus’s spread has taken place in Pakistan’s rural areas. There is no data to back any claim as the government is not accurately recording cases from the country’s rural areas. However, one can argue that one week of the Eid holidays and the lifting of the lockdown that allowed millions of workers to travel back to their villages from major urban zones may have worsened the problem. There are real risks that these workers might have taken the virus back to their villages, setting up new clusters in regions that may have been previously safe.
Going forward, it is unclear how the government plans to contain the virus’ spread when it couldn’t implement a clear policy during the early stages of the pandemic. The imposition of another lockdown is set to fail for several reasons. Pakistan has never implemented a complete lockdown in a true sense. In this regard, the scuffle between the center and the provinces continues to pose a challenge. Right-wing hardliners want to keep mosques open while small and major businesses have developed lobbies within the government to push for the opening of the economy.
Pakistan’s ruling party remains a divided house on the matter too. The country’s social media is abuzz with posts from the government’s ministers pushing for the opening of businesses and others asking for a strict lockdown to contain the virus’s spread. Making the situation worse is the stressed capacity of the health care system, lack of training of the staff to record cases accurately, and the unavailability of the protective equipment. Reportedly, testing labs in Pakistan are operating under war conditions. The percentage of errors in collecting samples is very high. Recently, one of the largest testing facilities for coronavirus in Pakistan “received a batch of 800 samples from Bahawalpur in Punjab, of which only 261 could be processed.”
“The labels were wrong, the samples had leaked, the tags had rubbed off. This affects our testing capacity and accuracy,” said a doctor working in the facility.
The government has never communicated its policy firmly or with a clear-headed approach. Talk of another lockdown will not ease Pakistan’s troubles. In fact, it’s unlikely that people are going to follow the announcement of another lockdown as economic pressures reach boiling point. The best and perhaps the only time to effectively impose a strict lockdown was when the crisis was at the early stages and the government had a narrative to sell.
From here onward, news of another lockdown with zero or no enforcement strategy will only create more problems. As the government loses control of the situation, it is COVID-19 that will decide the fate of millions of Pakistanis.