In March 2022, Commonwealth Alumni Irum Maqbool and Maham Nawaz organised a webinar on digital rights in Pakistan aimed at improving the awareness of secondary school girls’ rights to privacy and data protection when online. Following the webinar, they commissioned the production of an age-appropriate informational video to further raise awareness of the ways in which young people can stay safe online.

Irum Maqbool headshot

Irum Maqbool

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic led to schools shifting teaching and learning to online platforms, as well as an increased use of online technology more generally. However, in Pakistan, the use of digital technology in schools was not common and education on how to stay safe online remains limited. Addressing girls’ awareness of their rights and safety online is therefore of critical importance.

The activity was designed in three stages. The first stage was the delivery of focus group discussions with secondary school girls to understand their baseline existing knowledge on their rights to privacy and data protection online. The focus groups targeted girls attending different schools and with access to multiple digital platforms. On establishing the minimum awareness threshold, Irum and Maham created a list of areas the second stage of their activity would need to address: a webinar on digital rights.

To support the delivery and content of the webinar, they approached the Digital Rights Foundation and invited speakers to deliver a talk on technical and legal aspects of data protection. The talk also covered mental health concerns for school-aged students if exposed to online harassment. This directly addressed issues flagged by a couple of girls during the focus group discussions.

The webinar formed the basis for the third stage of the activity, which was the creation of a short informational video. Working with a graphic designer, Areeba Hasseb, they created a video to raise awareness of the digital rights of school aged children, with a focus on girls. The video provides information on the support available for young people using digital platforms and how to articulate harassment and discomfort that may be encountered in online spaces.

Despite disruptions caused by school closures and the spread of the omicron COVID-19 variant in Pakistan, Irum and Maham were able to safely deliver all three stages of their ACEF activity. The Girls Digital Rights Awareness video is now available for anyone to access. Through their collaboration with the Digital Rights Foundation, Irum and Maham have been able to share their video more widely and it has supported similar activities run by the foundation to raise awareness amongst school children.

In the short term, those who attended the webinar have reported benefiting from the information shared and improving their general knowledge of digital rights and staying safe online.

Irum Maqbool, 2019 Scholar from Pakistan, MPhil Education (Psychology and Education), University of Cambridge

Maham Nawaz, 2019 Shared Scholar from Pakistan, LLM Law, University of Cambridge