Lack of cell phone services leads to death for some women in former FATA

Country/area: Pakistan

Organisation: Digital Rights Monitor

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 18 Aug 2020

Credit: Sumaira Ashraf Rajput

Project description:


The former tribal areas, now merged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, have experienced military operations, conflict and displacement at a massive scale over the past decade. The area has been one of the focal points for the war on terror and continues to suffer from the effects of the conflict and years of neglect before that. Due to the operation in 2014 alone, about 929,859 people from north Waziristan were forced to flee their homes, becoming Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). After the conflict. Those returning to the area, felt the stark difference in connectivity is leading to deaths.

Impact reached:

After covid-19 hit Pakistan the situation of internet services in tribal areas got highlighted, students were campaigning on social media to highlight connectivity issues at that time, I took my journalistic responsibility and gathered data on issues faced by tribal women under covid-19 tribal areas do not have proper hospitals, with staff overburdened in the limited health facilities that do exist. News reports over the years have documented the difficulty most residents have in reaching healthcare in cases of emergence, poor communication infrastructure makes it even more difficult for residents to call for health care service I interviewed many people including local journalist Raziya Mehsud she revealed that

“The whole world is using different techniques to fight with COVID-19 through the internet but many of the tribal women do not even know about COVID-19, If a woman dies of COVID-19, she or even her family don’t know what has happened to her.”

Raziya added that where people in other countries are using the internet to innovate during the pandemic, find solutions to social, medical or political problems that have risen as a result of lockdowns, people in Waziristan are still looking to the government for basic connectivity.

The article was published in Digital rights monitor followed by a live session, which created enormous response people of Pakistan started asking the government about health facilities in former fata and other tribal areas, which weren’t having internet facility to be able to held government responsible in the time of pandemic. The article made rounds on social media which pressurized government think to for tribal people, medical teams and kits were dispatched for tribal areas in a very short time. I humbly state that this article saved many precious lives in Pakistan which were vulnerable in covid-19.

Techniques/technologies used:

I used data wrapper to create visualization while editing this particular piece for Digital rights monitor. I visualized group of people who left Waziristan and then become IDPs. I also used investigative dash board, data bin and zup these technologies were quite helpful regarding data investigation. 

What was the hardest part of this project?

In Pakistan A few hundred kilometers from South Waziristan’s capital, Wanna, lies the small town of Ladha. A picturesque mountainous area, it’s not the sort of place where one would expect to find proper roads and health care facilities. Ladha’s green mountains and snow capped peaks, could be the envy of many, but like other places in the former tribal areas, very little is known about it. There are no cell phone towers or internet connection that would make it easier for residents to connect to the country or the rest of the world. For women this makes voicing themselves, even more difficult, due the cultural and social constraints they already live with. When pandemic hit Pakistan At first I tried to connect them through cell phones to record their narrative but it wasn’t possible for me to reach them so I took a drive of almost two days and reach there but interviewing them was another hurdle. Women have no voice patriarchal society haven’t left them voiced it took me a month convincing them to speak. The area is still with military so I was under observance too which was another hurdle, I reported daily to the in charge of that particular area, Waziristan was occupied by Taliban before operation in 2014 so being there as journalist was risk to life, travelling was also very challenging as roads weren’t carpeted and people do live in higher mountains so in order to interview women of the area I also hiked for hours. I hold prestige of recording the voice of the area where no other journalist went under pandemic.

What can others learn from this project?

I am data journalist but I didn’t rely on data provided by internet only, I chose to investigate the reality by minnig in field that also endangerd my life, I know it looks silly specially in Pakistan where recently a women journalist got killed, but this is our profession and it is the way it is. The story of the pain I took for this specific piece dosen’t ends here, Pakistan is under strict censorship, so I also convinced the publication to publish the piece which told the world that, The gender digital divide can have fatal consequences for women, those living in areas without cellular coverage or internet cannot at time seek basic healthcare, and now I have curatted data for other data journalist.

“Making effort is real journalism which surely leaves impact” , Sumaira

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