Social Media and the Gender-Based Violence

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On average, users spend 2 hours and 32 minutes on social media.  Teens are more profligate in terms of their time on such platforms.  Social media seems to have taken an essential part in modern life. Though the mainstream media also has its own place, the scarcity of leisure allures people towards quick sources of entertainment requiring lesser time and having more audio-visual effects. The population of content creators has seen a sharp rise in the past few years with the introduction of new apps like TikTok. Some teens even spend around 9 hours on social media.  The impact of social media is evident in framing the mindsets towards various issues; Sexual and Gender Based Violence is one of those.

The SGBV (Sexual and Gender Based Violence), IBV (Intimate Partner Violence) and overall Gender Based Violence are no new concepts. Femicides are on rise in Latin America, the West laments the wage gaps despite equal efforts, women in many parts of the Islamic world lack individual freedom, and the women in South Asian cultures are measured with the scale of suitability for matrimony. All these have one thing in common: violence against women and the asymmetry in the rights enjoyed by the genders. Previous generations have grown hearing tales about the magnanimous display of patience by the elderly females.  The older ladies proudly admit the kinds of thrashings they survived yet they stuck to the fatal practices and ideals that came at the price of their individuality, freedom, and honor.

Our popular culture is patriarchal. Usually, women maintain chastity as wealth while men get away with corrupt practices. Toxicity, violence, disrespect, and sense of entitlement are all the quintessential features of heroes in popular dramas or novels in Pakistan. Similarly, inconsiderate men have been shown as epitomes of attraction in the western popular novels as well. In short, aggressiveness, unpredictability and apathy have been shown as masculine traits while timidity, sensitivity, and care are associated with girls.

However, with the introduction of new platforms where everyone has a say, the tide seems to be turning. Recently, the popular drama ‘’Hum Kahan k Sachy Thay’ suffered immense backlash on social media due to the perpetual disrespectful behavior by the male protagonist. The actor too spoke up against the scene where he was expected to hit a female despite being ‘the Hero’. Similarly, the sensational drama’s script where the ‘Hero’ equates his unfaithful wife with two Takas also faced severe criticism for endorsing ridicule against women. Celebrities, having huge fan following, also influence people through openly speaking up about issues on social media.

The ‘Noor Muqaddam Case’ remains the heart of activism on social media. The coverage given to this issue by the mainstream media does not commensurate the gravity of the crime. The social media activism also produced substantial momentum for speedy trials and actions in the ‘Motorway Rape Incident’ and the rape and murder case of Zainab in Qasoor. The Hashtags are no longer the abstract demands by utopian minds. They are producing substantial results by attracting the attention of authorities. The gender-based issues attract greater momentum due to the unflinching support by feminists and the huge population of women, girls, and even men who sympathize with them. Such incidents have greater audiovisual effects and appear more appealing as people can directly relate to them.

Social media influencers have an active part in demonizing the violence, at least the physical violence against women. The content creators actively partake in the debates and call out the gender-based discrimination or the propagation of stereotypes. Outlying echo-chambers are forming and expanding which are subversive to the dominant patriarchal discourse. In the very recent past, normalization of domestic violence was too common.  Still, there are many dramas in which women were slapped without any retaliation and the ‘things end happily ever after’. A lot needs to be done on covert and overt verbal abuse which women endure but abusive men are never shown tolerant towards.

On one hand, social media has strengthened the voices of few from being trampled by the dominant discourse but on the other hand it has emancipated everyone equally. Those who practice verbal abuse are much more relentless in criticizing the dissent voices from their keyboards. In Pakistan, the social media pages or people with liberal thoughts are more susceptible to be attacked and bullied online than those who are more traditionalists and fundamentalists. Unfortunately, such people condone the female subservience relating abuse with parochial understanding of religion and its misinterpreted rationale. Still, one has the option to report the violent or discriminatory activities and narratives. It might seem credulous but collective actions can produce desired outcomes. It is especially true when someone violates the Terms and Conditions of social media platforms.

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