What It’s Like Being a Pashtun Woman on Social Media

This is going to be a series, and I am not going to promise it’ll be as regular as I’d like it to be. I’ve asked several Pashtun females to share their online experiences with me for this series — whatever stories they’d like to share, however, detailed or un-detailed, whether they use their real name or fake names or remain anonymous, whether they choose to expose the men and women and others who harass them online. Many have responded, and I’m grateful. If you’re a Pashtun woman reading this and would like to share your thoughts, experiences, observations as well, please feel free to do so. You can email me at orbala1@gmail.com.

Why? Because one of the most common topic of conversation among Pashtun women is online harassment from men. Especially when these women are social, political activists, or are bloggers who write critically about issues of gender and women’s treatments in the Pashtun society or in Islam, or about ethnic, racial, religious minorities in Pakistan/Afghanistan, or some other “controversial” topic. Of course, it wouldn’t be correct or fair to claim that “men” don’t respond well to such conversations led by women, because it’s obviously #notALLmen, but enough men so that enough women feel threatened, unsafe, or terrified of doing their work. Enough men so that basically all women feel the need to talk about this among each other and warn each other against certain men online that they have as “mutual friends” or as “mutual followers” on Twitter, etc.

We get harassed, threatened, mocked, deliberately humiliated, etc. because patriarchy has it that women do not belong in the “public” domain (and internet is a public space). I don’t want us to think of this harassment as the work of “boys,” “cowards,” “immature men,” etc. That doesn’t help even address the problem let alone fix it. However we choose to classify those behind this misogyny, know that men are doing it. (Yes, yes, there are some women hating on other women, too. But if anyone deviates from the actual point of this discussion to “but not all men” or “but women do it too!” understand that you’re actually part of the problem.) Our presence is such a nuisance to patriarchy that it does everything in its power–literally everything in its power–to silence us, to make us feel and act like invisible creatures, and it uses its threats against us to intimidate us into submitting to its misogyny. That’s why a lot of women remain anonymous and/or faceless on the internet. And everywhere else. That’s why historically, most women writers have used pseudonyms.  We’ve had no choice.

Not Just Pashtun: Online Harassment Against Women of All Cultures

This, of course, is not something unique to Pashtun women (see image on the right). Women in general are mocked, humiliated, attacked, and threatened with rape, assault, other harassment, and death on social media for the views they share in public. See, for example, this report about Brianna Wu, a game developer who, as her tweets have shown over and over, has been threatened multiple times, and hacked. Because, in the games she develops, she portrays the women as empowered, strong characters who won’t accept violence from men.  Then here’s an article called why women aren’t welcome on the internet. Quoting the author from this article:

None of this makes me exceptional. It just makes me a woman with an Internet connection. Here’s just a sampling of the noxious online commentary directed at other women in recent years. To Alyssa Royse, a sex and relationships blogger, for saying that she hated The Dark Knight: “you are clearly retarded, i hope someone shoots then rapes you.” To Kathy Sierra, a technology writer, for blogging about software, coding, and design: “i hope someone slits your throat and cums down your gob.” To Lindy West, a writer at the women’s website Jezebel, for critiquing a comedian’s rape joke: “I just want to rape her with a traffic cone.” To Rebecca Watson, an atheist commentator, for blogging about sexism in the skeptic community: “If I lived in Boston I’d put a bullet in your brain.” To Catherine Mayer, a journalist at Time magazine, for no particular reason: “A BOMB HAS BEEN PLACED OUTSIDE YOUR HOME. IT WILL GO OFF AT EXACTLY 10:47 PM ON A TIMER AND TRIGGER DESTROYING EVERYTHING.”

Moreover, this website offers girls and women ten tips for challenging gender-based discrimination and online harassment. Because women *everywhere* make an excellent target for such harassment. And here’s an article called Voices of Women Silenced by Internet Trolls. Really, it’s never-ending, it’s happened to at least twenty women/girls you know (is unlikely that it hasn’t happened to any of them – impossible, actually), and all the harasser needs to know is that there’s a female behind the screen to decide whether or not to attack her. Google this for more examples, talk to any female you know, and/or test it out yourself some time by pretending to be a woman and see what kinds of responses you receive from men on the internet.

Then Why Just Talk about Pashtuns?

Again, yes, yes, of course, patriarchy or misogyny is not a Pashtun monopoly–it’s not just Pashtun men who threaten, harass, mock women; people of all cultures and regions and religions and societies do it. But for the emptieth time, as a Pashtun, I’m going to talk about Pashtuns. This blog of mine is largely a Pashtun (and feminist) platform, and so I’m not going to entertain the different ways that misogyny works in all other cultures. This is a blog run by a Pashtun girl (me), and I have no problem discussing and exposing the good or the bad, and if anyone has a problem with that, first fix the problem so that it no longer exists before you attempt to silence me and others who speak on these issues that are actually a constant source of pain for us. We wish these problems didn’t exist, we really do; but they do exist, and they are hurting us deeply. Understand that one of the difficulties of being an outspoken Muslim/Pashtun feminist is that you face multiple problems from multiple sides, including misogynist Pashtuns/Muslims, Islamophobic/xenophobic/racist non-Muslims/non-Pashtuns, secular extremist feminists, and so on. But, like all humans, we do what we can to promote what we believe is right.

I’d much rather help elevate Pashtun women’s voices in the interest of bringing attention to the difficulty of being a woman online because of patriarchal oppressions — than to be silent about it all because “let’s not air our dirty laundry!” or “Pashtuns already have a bad name! Let’s not make it worse.” No, folks; you need to hear this, and you need to understand that this problem isn’t going away until we acknowledge it and work towards eradicating it. (Note: I am not interested in *giving* anyone a voice; people already have a voice – it’s a matter of recognizing that voice, raising it, celebrating it.)

As for Me.

Source: http://www.youact.org/news/news_files/large_20141212-083420take%20back%20the%20tech%20photo.jpg

Source: the above website with 10 tips on countering online harassment against girls and women

Me? Some 95% of the men who have harassed me online have been Pashtun men. (But, at the same time, some 60% of my male supporters — as I can conclude from their emails, their comments on my blog, their Twitter and Facebook interactions with me — are also Pashtun. It’s obviously not that “Pashtun men” are bad people. Several white-American men, several Desi men, a couple of Arab men have harassed me as well. (A “couple” for Arab ones because my blog’s audience is primarily South Asian and occasionally Arabs, but in most cases, they’re feminist allies.)  I’ve been asked by (Pashtun and non-Pashtun men) out on dates; I’ve received marriage proposals – from married Pashtun men; Pashtun men have sent me sexually explicit Facebook messages and emails; they’ve asked for my address, asked if I live alone, asked for my phone number, directly asked me to have sex with them – or have expected “massages” from me. Someone once asked me for some personal information about me, and, knowing how he’d feel if I asked how he’d expect his sister to respond to such a thing (note: I’m against the whole “respect women because they’re someones’ sisters, mothers, wives, daughters,” but in certain circumstances, it can actually be an effective strategy; I don’t recommend it always), he started cursing at me in Pashto, and our curse words are literally female private parts with the F-word, and then he said his sister is not a slut like Qrratugai (my former nickname online) to be using Facebook. And then this brave man blocked me.

As if all this isn’t enough, I’ve also had my photos stolen and posted to Youtube videos and Google without my permission and prior knowledge. And someone on a Pashtun forum I was once an active member of–and before that, a moderator as well but by popular demand, I was “demoted” (lolz @ me and my controversies, apparently)–threatened to expose my photos, address, etc. to everyone on there; from the look of it, he probably did, since a lot of the males there joined him in ridiculing me and were all excited to receive pics of me. Such bigotry. (Back then, I didn’t show my pics online.)


I love this image 🙂 I’m going to be forever grateful to the woman who made this! God bless you!

A Pashtun girl friend of mine whose experiences I’ll be sharing in this series said that she wants to remain anonymous because she’s afraid that the sex invitation she’s received from Pashtun men may be interpreted by some as “Oh, you must have asked for it! You must’ve initiated it!” This is true – many will respond this way. So I told her that I’ll write about my own experiences first and will admit to having received these kinds of messages from Pashtun men so that she doesn’t feel alone. But her entry will still be presented anonymously. Another Pashtun female friend of mine, the moment something about her marriage to a non-Pashtun man came up on Twitter (she and I were talking about intercultural marriages), a couple of Pashtun men started harassing her, insulting her, etc. – which is so ironic because they were demanding that we Pashtun women marry Pashtun men (what, like them? Could you get more stupider?). And speaking of Pashtun women marrying non-Pashtun men … when a prominent female Pashtun’s marriage to a non-Pashtun man became a known thing on this one Pashtun forum I was once active on, OH. MY. GOD. The attacks against her, the insults against her, the discussions about her … the name-calling … it was disturbing. Know that a Pashtun man who marries a non-Pashtun woman is virtually unlikely to face the same attacks  from Pashtun men, at least on the internet. And then these men’s feelings get hurt when we marry outsiders. Go read, dummies.

One final disclaimer:

The title of this series is gonna be something like “What it’s like being a Pashtun woman online/on the internet,” and, yes, I recognize the many problems with such a statement. I know that there’s no such thing as “what it’s like being ~insert any layer of human identity~ anywhere.” But that’s the best I can do with the title, and that’s also why I’m inviting diversity. I want women to share the good and the bad and the ugly and the beautiful and everything/whatever in between with me. I know it’s not all women who have all bad experiences; I know that we have internalized patriarchy so much that women, too, give in to it and harass and abuse other women. And that men, too, get abused, raped, harassed, etc. – but let it be known that that’s still patriarchy at fault right there. It’s still a very specific type of people who get abused, because of specific assumptions and expectations about them. But this post isn’t about men. This is about women who get harassed. Pashtun women specifically. Suck it if you have a problem with this.


The Stories

– 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

16 thoughts on “What It’s Like Being a Pashtun Woman on Social Media

  1. Great reading. I enjoyed it thoroughly. While there are some real valid points , there are several serious problems with this line of thinking. The same things mentioned here probably will happen to any other women and even men from any culture so giving it an identity of a particular culture is rather misleading . Second the world has more than 7 billion population with a significant number of people on line and the world is not a perfect place so anyone who interacts on line whether male or female ,Pashtun or non pashtun should be ready to deal with the world when they choose to interact with the world with all its vices and virtues. Third the women on line could be as abusive , threartening and intimidating as men, even exploitative. I have had women from the most conservative North Waziristan abusing and ridiculing and threatening me on a difference of opinion. Fourthly the pattern that you are trying to establish by generalising seems wrong because different males will behave differently depending on their education, moral values, sophistication level and grooming irrespective of their race or ethnicity. Finally we seldom get to hear abt the unprecedented respect that women are supposed to get in traditional Pashtun society to balance out the negative aspects. My own feelings for Pashtun women : rather than playing victim develop capacity to survive as normal humans in the globalised society. For example if a pashtun women or any women online has not got the courage to use her actual identity there is no point in expecting the curtsy due to women. By and large a great piece that does highlt some aspects of the women experience on line. Best luck


    • Thanks for your comment – but I’ve already addressed your points in the post above. So, no, we’re gonna utilize this space to discuss the problems with the way we treat women online. (There’s a comment on this in the above post as well.) And this isn’t even the beginning – wait till you hear what the other women have to say.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’m backing you up Orbala on this one. Pashtun women, First Nations women whoever have the right to raise issues of online treatment of themselves. And until change happens, they have the space and the voice to continually press for their rights. Anyone has the perfect right to disagree but NO ONE has the right to further silence by being ‘well- meaning’. Fighting for your right to a voice and complaining about treatment is NOT playing victim, it is a subversive, revolutionary ACTION because YOU are DEMANDING respect. Looking for forward to the series Orbala.


    • Thank you! Yes, I didn’t even know what to say to the “victim” card comment! Like, what the hell?! You said it so much better than any attempts I could’ve made! Thank you! I’m looking forward to the series myself 🙂


    • Agreed, there are enough Pashtun men harassing Pashtun women on line for Pashtun women to discuss it between themselves. Fair enough. There are significant number of women ( if not equal) harassing men online that men should discuss. Unfortunately they don’t because of the societal values attached with status of women in traditional Pashtun society ( at least I don’t neither the large number of male friends that I have) . Hence I don’t believe in preferential treatment. I for one would like to remove the Pashtun tag and discuss it.


    • Ugh – always annoying when a man says “But men have problems too! Why focus on women alone? Men get harassed, abused, murdered, etc., and no one cares.” Poor men. There are so many blogs talking abt this, by the way. This isn’t one of them.

      No one should feel threatened to do anything, especially something as harmless as use the Internet; so I feel for all no matter their gender/sex/sexual orientation, and it’s terrible. But to claim that women are threatening, harming, abusing, harassing men the way men are doing women is an incredibly misogynistic thing to say – especially to claim that the number is “significant” or “equal.” When women get harassed, threatened, blackmailed, abused, etc. online, it is a part of the the larger patriarchal problem of men feeling entitled to treating women like objects, of asserting dominance over women and, when things don’t go their way, they get violent and worse. Understand that a woman–every woman–lives with this reality; she lives with it every single day. We’re the subject of men’s remarks, harassment, comments, abuse, etc. solely for being women.

      I don’t know if you’re Pashtun, but if you are (or from areas neighboring Pashtun areas), you probably know what, for example, the larger implications of stealing a girl’s pics and posting them on the internet are. Yes, it’s a problem of disrespecting a woman’s/another individual’s privacy in the long run, of shaming someone, but it’s also of dishonoring them in a community where this idea of a woman’s remaining the private property of the men of her household is taken very seriously. And then you come here to tell me that women and men face the same kind of harassment/abuses/threats/intimidation online (or anywhere else)?

      Feel free to talk about it whenever. Not here. You don’t get to deviate the focus from a blog series discussing the threats that women receive to claim it’s not as valid/fair cuz men hurt, too, cuz women are also abusive. There are books on this subject, especially with discussions regarding your claim that it’s just as bad for men as it is for women. You can start with the articles online talking about how “reverse sexism isn’t real” or “but not all men!” Google the first one to understand how patriarchy, power, and gender dynamics work such that being a woman is impossible and a risk in virtually all societies. Because no (heterosexual) man walks around at night/any time alone anywhere carrying some kind of a weapon–from a key to a pencil/pen to pepper spray–because simply by being a man, he’s extremely likely to be harassed, threatened, attacked, etc. Until you feel unsafe anywhere you walk alone especially at night because your gender is the reason you are likely to be attacked, you don’t get to even imply that women are just as abusive as men.

      So, yeah, always frustrating when a man’s rights activist attempts to derail a convo like the above.

      Nonetheless, check our first story out: https://orbala.wordpress.com/2015/06/01/what-its-like-being-a-pashtun-woman-on-social-media-story-1/


  2. Pingback: What It’s Like Being a Pashtun Woman on Social Media – Story 1 | Freedom from the Forbidden

  3. Pingback: What It’s Like Being a Pashtun Woman on Social Media – Story 2 | Freedom from the Forbidden

  4. Pingback: What It’s Like Being a Pashtun Woman on Social Media – Story 3: on public identity, marriage proposals, unwanted requests | Freedom from the Forbidden

  5. Pingback: What It’s Like Being a Pashtun Woman on Social Media – Story 4: intimidation, insults, peghor | Freedom from the Forbidden

  6. Pingback: What It’s Like Being a Pashtun Woman on Social Media – Story 4: when men send you porn to try to silence you | Freedom from the Forbidden

  7. Pingback: What It’s Like Being a Pashtun Woman on Social Media – Story 5: inappropriate messages from “respected” figures | Freedom from the Forbidden

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