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WORLD: ‘Toxic’: Online abuse drives women, girls from social media

New study finds nearly 60 percent of women and girls using Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have suffered abuse.

 

Al Jazeera (05.10.2020) – https://bit.ly/34vvZPL – Online abuse is driving girls to quit social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, with nearly 60 percent experiencing harassment, according to a new global study.

 

One in five girls and young women has abandoned or cut down her use of a social media platform after being targeted, with some saying harassment started when they were as young as eight years old, the survey by girls’ equality group Plan International showed.

 

“Girls are being silenced by a toxic level of harassment,” the organisation’s chief executive, Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, said on Sunday.

 

Attacks were most common on Facebook, where 39 percent of girls polled said they had been harassed, followed by Instagram (23 percent), WhatsApp (14 percent), Snapchat (10 percent), Twitter (9 percent) and TikTok (6 percent).

 

The charity, which will share the report with social media companies and legislators around the world, said the abuse was suppressing girls’ voices at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic was increasing the importance of online communication.

 

It called on social media companies to take urgent action to address the issue and urged governments to pass laws to deal with online harassment.

 

The study found reporting tools were ineffective in stopping the abuse, which included explicit messages, pornographic photos and cyberstalking.

 

Nearly half of the girls targeted had been threatened with physical or sexual violence, according to the poll. Many said the abuse took a mental toll, and a quarter felt physically unsafe.

 

“It is time for this to stop. Girls should not have to put up with behaviour online which would be criminal on the streets,” the report said.

 

Facebook and Instagram said they used artificial intelligence to look for bullying content, constantly monitored users’ reports of abuse and always removed rape threats.

 

Twitter said it also used technology to catch abusive content and has launched tools to improve users’ control over their conversations.

 

The survey polled 14,000 girls and young women aged 15 to 25 in 22 countries including Brazil, India, Nigeria, Spain, Thailand and the United States.

 

Albrectsen said activists, including those campaigning for gender equality and on LGBT+ issues, were often targeted particularly viciously, and their lives and families threatened.

 

“Driving girls out of online spaces is hugely disempowering in an increasingly digital world, and damages their ability to be seen, heard and become leaders,” she added.

 

In an open letter to Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter, girls from around the world called on social media companies to create more effective ways to report abuse.

 

“We use [your platforms] not just to connect with friends, but to lead and create change. But they are not safe for us. We get harassed and abused on them. Every. Single. Day,” they wrote.

 

“As this global pandemic moves our lives online, we are more at risk than ever.”

 

Plan International also urged the companies to do more to hold to account those behind such abuse, and to collect data on the scale of the problem.





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India: Dalit woman dies weeks after gang rape, triggering protest

The 19-year-old victim was gang raped by four men in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras town, about 100km from New Delhi.

 

Al Jazeera (29.09.2020) – https://bit.ly/34cR2GZ – A woman died in hospital in the Indian capital, New Delhi, on Tuesday, weeks after authorities said she was raped by a group of men, triggering protests and opposition criticism over what it said was a failure to protect women.

 

Her case was the latest in a string of gruesome crimes against women in India that have given it the dismal reputation of being one of the worst places in the world to be female.

 

One woman reported a rape every 15 minutes on average in India in 2018, according to the latest government data released in January.

 

“There is next to no protection for women. Criminals are openly committing crimes,” Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, a leader of the opposition Congress party, said on Twitter.

 

The 19-year-old victim, belonging to the Dalit community – formerly known as “untouchables” – was attacked and raped on September 14 at a field near her home in Hathras district, 100km (62-mile) from New Delhi, authorities said.

 

Police have arrested four men in connection with the crime.

 

On Monday, the woman was brought from a hospital in Uttar Pradesh state to New Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital, where she died while undergoing treatment, authorities said.

 

About 300 protesters from the Bhim Army, a party championing the rights of Dalits, entered the hospital building and shouted slogans near the mortuary where the woman’s body was kept.

 

“We will take the matter to fast-track court for the faster investigation and collection of evidence,” district authorities in Hathras said in a statement.

 

#Hathras trended on Twitter as social media users expressed outrage at the latest case of gruesome sexual assault.

 

The woman’s home state of Uttar Pradesh, which is governed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), ranks as the most unsafe state for women in the country.

 

Last December, a 23-year-old Dalit woman was set ablaze by a gang of men as she made her way to a court in Uttar Pradesh to press rape charges.





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Pakistan arrests suspect in highway gang rape case amid protests

One of two suspects arrested amid demonstrations over handling of probe into attack on mother travelling with children.

 

Al Jazeera (13.09.2020) – https://bit.ly/3kfZNGp – Pakistani police say they have arrested one of two suspects in the rape of a woman who was dragged from her car and attacked after her car broke down on a desolate highway in central Punjab province.

 

The woman, who police say is in her early 30s, was driving late on Wednesday night outside the eastern city of Lahore with her two children when her vehicle ran out of fuel.

 

She phoned the police for help, but before they arrived, two men took her and her children out of the vehicle at gunpoint and raped her in a field along the highway.

 

The suspects are also accused of stealing cash and jewelry from the woman before fleeing.

 

Chief of the criminal investigation wing of the Punjab police, Atif Nazeer, on Sunday said the arrest of one of the men was made after they tracked phone records and collected forensic evidence from the scene.

 

Nazeer said the suspect denies any involvement in the rape. Local media reported that the suspect turned himself over to police to plead his innocence.

 

The arrest came after protests continued across Pakistan for a second day on Saturday over the handling of an investigation into the assault.

 

Inam Ghani, Inspector General of Punjab province had told reporters on Saturday night that police had identified the two suspects through DNA tracing.

 

“I am hopeful very soon we will reach them and arrest them,” he said.

 

Musarrat Cheema, a spokesperson in the eastern Punjab province, said raids were being conducted to find the culprits.

 

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s office said the protection of women is a first priority and responsibility of the government, adding that “such brutality and bestiality cannot be allowed in any civilised society”.

 

But protesters are not satisfied, and called for the sacking of the lead police investigator assigned to the case, Omar Sheikh, who has reportedly pointed out what he felt the victim had done wrong.

 

Sheikh is reported to have said the woman should have taken a different, busier, highway, not travelled at night, and made sure her vehicle had enough fuel.

 

He also said she appeared to be under the impression Pakistan was as safe for women as France, “her country of residence”. Requests for comment to the French Embassy in Islamabad went unanswered

 

In Islamabad, several hundred protesters gathered, some waved French flags, and others held signs saying “hang the rapists”.

 

“It’s very simple, these sort of incidents are not very new the issue is that rather than catching the criminals or catching the perpetrators, we always blame the victims,” said Aleena Alvi.

 

“I think the laws have also changed around the rape victims, there was a law of women’s protection act, instead of this act, there has now been no protection that has been given to victims.”

 

Hundreds, mostly women, also gathered in Lahore, Karachi, and the northwestern city of Peshawar. “Shatter the silence, stop the violence,” read one placard in Peshawar.

 

Global rights watchdogs have pointed out that Pakistan has not done enough to stem violence against women, including ensuring perpetrators are held accountable.

 

The attack has especially angered women who say public space in the country was already limited.

 

“And now the police are telling you that you are responsible for your own safety,” said Yamna Rehman at the Islamabad protest, organised by the Women Democratic Front collective.





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Pakistani Christian sentenced to death for ‘blasphemous texts’

Asif Pervaiz, 37, who has been in custody since 2013, given death penalty for sending ‘blasphemous’ text messages.

 

By Asad Hashim

Al Jazeera (08.09.2020) – https://bit.ly/2Fi6rNf – A court in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore has sentenced a Christian man to death for having committed “blasphemy”, his lawyer says, in the latest case of Pakistan’s strict religious laws being applied against minorities.

 

Asif Pervaiz, 37, has been in custody since 2013 when he was accused of having sent “blasphemous” text messages to a former supervisor at work, lawyer Saif-ul-Malook told Al Jazeera.

 

The court rejected his testimony wherein he denied the charges and sentenced him to death on Tuesday.

 

“The complainant was a supervisor in a hosiery factory where Asif was working under him,” said Malook.

 

“He denied the allegations and said that this man was trying to get him to convert to Islam.”

 

Speaking in his own defence in court earlier in the trial, Pervaiz claimed the supervisor confronted him after he quit work at the factory, and when he refused to convert he was accused of having sent blasphemous text messages to the man.

 

Blasphemy laws

 

Muhammad Saeed Khokher, the complainant in the case, denies wanting to convert Parvaiz, according to his lawyer, Ghulam Mustafa Chaudhry.

 

“He has taken this defence after the fact, because he had no other clear defence,” Chaudhry told Al Jazeera. “That’s why he accused him of trying to convert him.”

 

Chaudhry said there were other Christian employees at the factory, but none have accused Khokher of proselytising.

 

Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws prescribe a mandatory death penalty for the crime of insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, and strict penalties for other infractions such as insulting Islam, the holy Quran or certain holy people.

 

There are currently at least 80 people in prison in Pakistan for the crime of “blasphemy”, with at least half of them facing life sentences or the death penalty, according to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

 

Those accused under the laws are mainly Muslim, in a country where 98 percent of the population follows Islam, but the laws disproportionately target members of minorities such as Christians and Hindus.

 

Aasia Bibi case

 

In one of the most high-profile blasphemy cases in the country’s history, the Supreme Court ruled in October 2018 that a Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, had been framed in her case and that the laws had inadequate oversight for false accusations.

 

Those accusations can have deadly consequences. Since 1990, at least 77 people have been killed in connection with blasphemy allegations, according to an Al Jazeera tally.

 

Those killed have included people accused of blasphemy, their family members, lawyers and judges who have acquitted those accused of the crime. Bibi fled Pakistan in 2019 due to threats against her life.

 

The latest such murder took place in July when a man accused of blasphemy was shot six times in a courtroom during a hearing in his case.

 

His murderer was apprehended and was garlanded with roses by far-right supporters during subsequent court appearances.

 

This month has seen a sharp spike in blasphemy cases being registered in Pakistan, particularly in the most populous province of Punjab. Many of these cases have targeted the country’s sizeable Shia Muslim minority, which forms roughly 15 percent of the population.

 

Since a series of large-scale sit-in protests on the issue of blasphemy in 2017, political parties have increasingly been including messaging on blasphemy in their platforms.

 

The Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) political party, formed by firebrand scholar Khadim Hussain Rizvi ahead of the 2018 polls, campaigned on a platform based on defence of the blasphemy laws.

 

While it won few seats, it garnered the fourth-highest share of the countrywide popular vote by a single party.





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How wage abuse is hurting Qatar’s migrant workers

Migrant workers say they are struggling to survive due to salary delays, non-payment of dues and NOC restrictions.

 

By Faras Ghani

 

Al Jazeera (26.08.2020) – https://bit.ly/3lC0RWw – Angeline arrived in Qatar in 2018 hoping to provide for her three children, two brothers and mother back in the Philippines.

 

This was her first overseas employment stint and she wanted to make enough money to be able to buy a house for her family.

 

Now, Angeline is struggling to survive and waiting for the end of her contract so she can go home.

 

“We’ve not been paid since April 1 as we’ve not been working since then [due to the coronavirus pandemic],” she told Al Jazeera, adding that her employers gave staff a one-time allowance of 200 Qatari riyals ($55) in April.

 

“They said it was a cash advance and will be deducted from the salary once we get paid.”

 

The cleaning company that Angeline works for has, like thousands of other businesses across Qatar, felt the brunt of government-enforced coronavirus restrictions.

 

In June, Qatar’s government told Al Jazeera it had introduced a 75-billion-riyal ($20.6bn) stimulus package to help companies continue operations and retain jobs, and to help those in “financial difficulty to pay salaries and rent”.

 

But Angeline says her employers have refused to support staff financially and have even confiscated passports and ATM cards – the latter action is illegal under Qatari law.

 

“In May, they told us they will give us 400 [riyals, or $110] if we sign a new contract. Those who refused were given another deductible cash advance of 200 [riyals]. We had no option but to agree. Otherwise, we would’ve starved to death.”

 

Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers and its human rights record have been under the spotlight since it was awarded the hosting of football’s 2022 FIFA World Cup.

 

Under Qatar’s “kafala” (Arabic word for sponsorship) system, migrant workers must obtain their employers’ permission – a no-objection certificate (NOC) – before changing jobs, a law that rights activists say ties their presence in the country to their employers and could lead to abuse and exploitation.

 

The Government Communication Office (GCO) told Al Jazeera: “Qatar has made substantial progress on labour reforms and it continues to work with NGOs, including the International Labour Organization, to ensure that these reforms are far-reaching and effective.”

 

However, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, released on Monday, said the country’s “efforts to protect migrant workers’ right to accurate and timely wages have largely proven unsuccessful”.

 

“Despite a handful of reforms in recent years, withheld and unpaid salaries, as well as other wage abuses, are persistent and widespread across at least 60 employers and companies in Qatar,” the report added.

 

HRW said most of the migrant workers it spoke to for the report experienced salary delays, non-payment of dues and end-of-service benefits. Some said “employers made arbitrary deductions from their salaries”.

 

In response, the GCO said: “Nearly all individuals who come to Qatar for employment never experience any form of wage abuse. There are a few, isolated, instances where workers experience this issue.”

 

In June, Al Jazeera published a report on how the coronavirus shutdown affected Qatar’s migrant workers. It spoke to hundreds of workers employed by private companies in the country and found that most were in a “no work, no pay” situation, struggling to survive despite the government’s stimulus package.

 

Al Jazeera spoke to numerous affected migrant workers, including driving instructors, salon staff, baristas, chefs, private taxi drivers, small business owners, and hotel and hospitality staff. Most of them have not received any assistance from their employers and are too afraid to complain.

 

“The [GCO’s] statement is not consistent with the findings that we have, but also with the almost periodic media reports we see of hundreds of migrant workers stranded after their employer stops paying them for months on end,” Hiba Zayadin, HRW’s Gulf researcher, told Al Jazeera.

 

“This is a pervasive issue, not just in Qatar but across the Gulf. It is important to stress that our report does not say nor intend to imply that all migrant workers in Qatar suffer wage abuses. Instead, it seeks to show that they work against a backdrop that both enables widespread wage abuse and fails to adequately protect them from it when it occurs.”

 

Al Jazeera has learned that despite a lot of coronavirus-enforced restrictions being lifted as part of Qatar’s four-phase plan to reopen the country and economy, a number of private sponsors are still not paying staff, despite making them work.

 

“I’m working six hours daily all week but getting paid just over seven riyals [$1.9] per hour,” staff from another cleaning company told Al Jazeera. “Because, until now, the company is still not operating fully, they said they are unable to pay us what the contract says.

 

“My last salary was paid in March. Since then, the company has not given us anything, not even a single riyal. We are only able to survive through private donations of rice and food items.”

 

Some workers said they have not been paid since January. Others are being paid a fraction of their salaries.

 

Workers have also told Al Jazeera some employers transfer salaries into the workers’ bank accounts but force the employees to hand over the ATM cards before withdrawing the amount.

 

Wage abuse

 

GCO’s claim that wage abuse is experienced in isolated instances has surprised rights organisations.

 

“This response was not just inaccurate but really disrespectful and unmindful of what workers are going through. To deny this, especially in this period where job cuts and pay cuts are the norm, was ill-advised,” Vani Saraswathi, director of projects at Migrant-Rights.Org, told Al Jazeera.

 

“The GCO only had to peruse the complaints filed at various embassies and the MADLSA [labour ministry] to realise these are not isolated cases and is so widespread that it runs into tens of thousands. If they don’t recognise the problem, how are they going to resolve it?”

 

The GCO said businesses that ceased services following government instructions earlier this year were ordered to pay “basic salary and allowances”.

 

It added that the recommendations put forward in the HRW report “are already being implemented or on track to begin implementation”, including laws that remove the NOC requirement and the introduction of a minimum wage.

 

“Qatar’s labour programme protects all workers in all stages of their employment cycle,” the statement said.

 

But HRW’s Zayadin said while “Qatar has made many promises to migrant workers over the past several years and has introduced some reforms”, they were not going far enough.

 

“Time and again, migrant workers in Qatar have been disappointed to find that the marketed reforms have done little to improve their lived realities in the country,” she added.

 

“If Qatar truly wants these reforms to reverberate on the ground and to make a difference in the lives of those they aim to target, they need to abolish kafala in its entirety, allow workers to join trade unions, and introduce reforms that address harmful business practices.”

 

Workers are also losing faith in the system due to the barriers to accessing justice that exist in Qatar, Saraswathi said, echoing the fear among migrant workers of repercussions if they complain.

 

She added that for workers the announcement of reforms or a report means little.

 

Qatar’s government said it encourages workers to lodge their complaints with the labour ministry via a phone call, text or email.

 

In June, the GCO said: “Over 12,000 inspections have been carried out at workplaces and accommodation sites to confirm that companies are implementing all COVID-19 precautionary measures. There is no excuse for any company to violate Qatar’s labour laws, including late payment of salaries.”

 

For Angeline, who is scared to speak up, there is only one thing on her mind.

 

“My family is struggling to survive. They had to sell things in the house to buy food. Even here, it’s very difficult for me and my colleagues but we are very scared of the employer as we’ve heard stories about blacklisting and deportation in the past.

 

“The only thing on my mind is to leave.”

 

Workers’ names have been changed to protect identities. None of the workers wanted to name their businesses for fear of reprisal but some have reported them to Qatar’s labour ministry.


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