Freedom from the Forbidden

All things gender and Islam. No bigotry is allowed in this feminist territory. #DeathToPatriarchy

What It’s Like Being a Pashtun Woman on Social Media – Story 5: inappropriate messages from “respected” figures

Continuing our series on Pashtun women’s experiences with social media / what it’s like being a Pashtun woman on good ol’ internet. (The other stories are linked at the bottom of this post. Please be sure to read the Introduction to the series! I’m afraid someone brilliant is going to rise up and say, “But it’s not just Pashtun women who face these problems! Why are you targeting Pashtun men as harassers only?!” Because you didn’t read. READ!)

Shad Begum, whose reflections I’m sharing below, is an award-winning Pukhtun female activist who has graciously contributed to this series. (The following was originally posted on her blog.) She founded the non-profit called Association for Behaviour & Knowledge Transformation (ABKT) during the tumultuous Taliban reign in Swat between 2009-2010. Readers are invited to read more about her, her work, and her accomplishments on her blog.

Quoting verbatim from her blog with her permission:

At the outset, I want to appreciate all those men, especially our Pakhtun brothers, from whom I received respect – both as a person and for my work. I do not want to label all Pakhtun men as ill-mannered and disrespectful to Pakhtun women on social media.

I am a social entrepreneur, a women rights activist, married and a mother of two amazing kids – 14 and 12 years old. My work requirements compel me to use social media such as Facebook and Twitter for promoting my work and creating a larger impact through reaching a wide audience, locally and globally.

I belong to a conservative rural area, and for many of the women of my area, it is unimaginable to disclose their pictures and identity locally, let alone to publish it on the social media.

But being a Pakhtun woman and on the social media with a real persona is not an easy task. Sometimes the behavior of some Pakhtun men becomes so undesirable that I have deactivated my account a number of times. One gentleman collected my pictures from my wall on Facebook and published it with the caption, “this is Shad Begum from Dir. These are her own published pictures on Facebook. Just decide yourself which of these pictures are according to Islam or Pashtunwali.” I had to review all posted pictures of myself, which I had taken during my work related activities.

Facebook gives you limited options to define your relationship with your contacts on Facebook. Many Pakhtuns consider acceptance of a “friend request” to be beyond an acquaintanceship. There are even “friend’s requests” by strangers but acceptance of a “friend request” does not mean anything beyond sharing of useful information on Facebook.

I feel embarrassed when men in my list send friend request to women on my list, and even more when I hear from those women friends that someone on my list has harassed them.

I know respected figures sending inappropriate messages through messenger, and I have them on record. Many Pakhtun men believe that Facebook, Twitter, or mobile phones are a good entertainment to kill time and develop friendships with women.

Forget messages through messenger. There are people who comment on my wall in a manner that put me in embarrassment before my family, some of them are also using Facebook and reading my posts and comments. None of these stranger “friends” realize that inappropriate comments on the wall of a Pakhtun woman deprives her of the space that she has been allowed in an otherwise conservative environment where women have limited mobility or interaction with our Pakhtun brothers. Thus, by their inappropriate behavior and poor manners toward women, they further deprive these women of the only space to interact with men in a healthy and positive manner and know each others’ problems.

Healthy behaviors between genders are formed through positive attitudes. We Pakhtun cannot equal other nations and communities if we do not reform our attitude towards women.

I do not want to single out Pakhtun community or their men for harassing women on social media. This might be experienced by other women too from other communities, but my work, my space, my world, and everything related to Pakhtuns; therefore, I consider it my right voice my concern on the misuse of social media by our Pakhtun brothers.

I hope that my thoughts and feelings are considered in a positive manner and with greater understanding, rather than demonizing the attitude of Pakhtun men. Please keep us, Pakhtun women, in your prayers, Pakhtun brothers and allow us to build a society based on mutual respect and tolerance, together.


[1] Ms. Shad Begum, belonging to Dir Lower district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, is a woman social entrepreneur working for the economic, political and social empowerment of women since 1994. She is the founder member and Executive Director Association for Behaviour & knowledge Transformation  (ABKT), an Ashoka Fellow, and in recognition of her extraordinary work for the rights of women, she has been awarded several national and international awards, including the International Woman of Courage Award by the US State Department. She has remained a district councillor in Dir Lower during 2001-2005, after winning the election on a general seat as an independent candidate.  She is on the Advisory Boards of several prestigious international women organisations and is also a member of the UN Strategic Guidance Group of the N-Peace Network, a global network of women peacemakers around the world.

Our Message to Shad Begum

Many Pashtun (and other Muslim) men are always going to use Islam to justify their policing of Muslim women. They accuse us of not being Muslim or Pashtun enough as though it is at all acceptable in Islam or Pashtunwali to harass another individual (in Pashtunwali, especially a woman), to (attempt to) humiliate them, and so on; if anything, doesn’t Islam teach us to keep other people’s sins as hidden as possible if we ever come to know of them? If these people believe we’re committing a sin by displaying our pictures online or by not dressing appropriately because our faces are showing, what do they think they’re doing by further “exposing” us to the world? It gives me hope to know women who pursue careers like you and who are aware that these kinds of response from the men of our culture/religion are simply an intimidation technique that they desperately hope will stop us. I’m tempted to say that women like you threaten their power and masculinities, but I know that such a statement is meaningless. I as a Pukhtun woman am deeply proud of you, and I am grateful that you exist in our time. Thank you for your work and contributions to Pukhtun communities! God be your Shield, aamen.

Previously on What It’s Like Being a Pashtun Woman on the Internet:
Introduction to the Series
Story 1: intimidation, indecent photos, and threats of no-husband-for-you
Story 2: indecent exposures, demands for massages, and male orders to be quiet
Story 3: on public identity, marriage proposals, unwanted requests
Story 4: harassment, insults, peghor

Categories: Death to patriarchy, feminism, forbidden things, gender, Muslim feminists, Pakistan, Pashtun Leaders, Pashtuns, stop using the word shame, why we need feminism

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