Pakistan holds a dire position as one of the most hostile media climates in the world. Journalists, in particular female journalists, experience an increased risk of violence, attack and censorship. The growing popularity of digital media has also put these journalists at the front line for harassment, surveillance and threats online.

Digital Rights Foundation

Founded in 2012, the Digital Rights Foundation has built a trusted network working with human rights defenders, journalists and lawyers to achieve their vision of a place where all people,  especially women, are able to exercise their right of expression without being threatened. 

The Digital Rights Foundation has experience in training female journalists on digital security, and with the support of Free Press Unlimited established the Network of Women Journalists for Digital Rights and published a guidebook on digital security for Pakistani journalists in 2017. The aim of the Network of Journalists is to strengthen Pakistani female journalists working online; through the support of the collective and through specially developed trainings. In 2018, the Digital Rights Foundation has expanded the membership of the network and emphasize the role of media institutions in providing digital security for their staff. Members of the Network of Journalists will each play a role in advocating for and reporting on digital rights in Pakistan.

Network of Journalists for Digital Rights

The network currently consists of 90 female members, who have received basic and advanced training workshops on digital security. In the coming year, the Digital Rights Foundation hopes to grow this network, continuing to strengthen it through trainings on ethical journalism, fake news, investigative reporting, journalist safety and digital security, as well as empowering the members of the network to report on digital rights within Pakistan. The Network of Journalists therefore has an important role to play in advocating for the safety of journalists. 

Leading figure for Pakistani women online

Nighat Dad, lawyer, internet activitst and director of the Digital Rights Foundation, has paved the way for Pakistani women to claim their space online. She was recently selected as one of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders for 2018, received the Human Rights Tulip in 2016 and has given a TED Talk on the helpline she set up to combat cyber harassment in Pakistan.

Speaking about why she established the Digital Rights Foundation, Nighat comments;

“Living in a conservative society like Pakistan, freedom doesn’t always come easy, and this fact wasn’t any different for me. When I first decided to take charge of my life and how I wanted to go forward, I had no idea that internet, a supposedly virtual space, had such power to liberate me from what I thought was a normal life of a woman in my country. I felt that I was free to share my opinions on the internet without the fear of getting killed - at least not immediately. I had seen women being beaten on the roads just because they chose to raise their voices against injustice and oppression. Like any other young girl from a conservative family, I was skeptical to go on the streets and chant for justice. But the fear was diminished when I raised my concerns on the online platform. This is when I realised the power of the internet, the power to unite people from around the world and beyond the borders, on the same cause. The feeling somewhat liberated me, and gave me the energy to found Digital Rights Foundation.”

Her journey advocating for digital and women’s rights has not been easy;

“When I started DRF, I was often laughed at by the people, because they thought that in a country where people don’t have basic human rights, you’re going around trying to talk about digital rights?! Nobody will listen to you, nobody will support you, you’ll get criticized, find another line of work, etc. But I knew that people cared; people who genuinely worry about human rights, care about digital rights. And even if they didn’t, I was dedicated enough to take the initiative myself and go ahead alone on this path. But as I stepped forward, people kept joining me and we formed this strong chain of wonderful people who stood for a similar cause: human rights.”

Read more about the Digital Rights Foundation on their websiteor follow them on social media.