AI-Generated Content Poses a Looming Threat to Women in India and Pakistan

by Zohaib Altaf and Nimra Javed
Socially conservative and patriarchal values make the threat of sexually-themed deepfakes a dire concern for the countries’ girls and women. In the digital age, where technological advancements are rapidly reshaping our realities, the emergence of AI-generated explicit images presents a new and disturbing challenge, particularly in regions like India and Pakistan. These countries, where women’s rights are already in a precarious state, face a potential crisis with the increasing capability of AI to create convincingly realistic content, to damaging effect. Recent incidents, such as the viral spread of fabricated images of celebrities like Taylor Swift and Bollywood stars Rashmika Mandanna, Katrina Kaif, Kajol, and Sara Tendulkar, illustrate the severity of this emerging threat. This trend could significantly exacerbate existing societal challenges faced by women, impacting their employment, education, mental health, and personal safety. The cultural and social dynamics of India and Pakistan, deeply rooted in traditions that place immense value on honor and reputation, make these societies particularly vulnerable to the damaging effects of AI-generated content. The potential for such technology to be used maliciously to tarnish the reputations of women poses a unique and modern threat to their dignity and standing. In these patriarchal societies, women are already navigating a complex web of social expectations and restrictions. The fear and possibility of being targeted by AI-generated explicit content add a new layer of vulnerability, potentially further curtailing women’s participation in public and professional life. In India, the decline in women’s participation in the workforce is a worrying trend. From a peak of 35 percent in 2004, women’s workforce participation dwindled to about 25 percent in 2022. In Pakistan, the situation is even more dire, with women’s workforce participation standing at a mere 20 percent. These figures not only reflect deep-rooted gender biases and socioeconomic barriers but also highlight the significant challenges women face in achieving economic independence and professional growth. The emergence of AI-generated explicit content could further deter women from seeking employment or education due to the heightened risk of reputational damage, thereby exacerbating the existing gender gap in economic participation. The mental health implications of AI-generated abuse are considerable and cannot be overlooked. In India, women are already more susceptible to mental health issues, with symptoms of depression and anxiety being 2-3 times more prevalent among women than men. This situation is mirrored in Pakistan, where the mental health burden among women is notably higher. According to the World Health Organization, Pakistan faces a severe lack of mental health resources, evidenced by the startling statistic that it has only 0.19 psychiatrists per 100,000 inhabitants. The trauma and stress induced by the potential spread of AI-generated explicit content could worsen these mental health issues, leading to increased instances of psychological distress among an already vulnerable demographic. The risk of increased violence, including honor killings, in relation to the potential dissemination of AI-generated images is a significant concern in these societies. India’s National Crime Records Bureau reported over 445,256 cases of crimes against women in 2022, equivalent to the filing of an average of nearly 51 first information reports every hour. In Pakistan, the situation is equally alarming, with over 63,367 gender-based crimes reported in the same year. That includes horrific incidents of honor killings, with 1,025 women falling victim to this crime. The misuse of AI in creating and circulating explicit images adds a perilous dimension to the existing threats faced by women in these communities, where reputation and honor are closely guarded and fiercely protected. The potential reputational damage from AI-generated images, even if later proven to be false, can have serious and long-lasting effects on a woman’s life. In societies where honor is deeply embedded in the social fabric, the rapid spread of such content can cause irreparable harm to a woman’s social standing and personal life. The challenge of restoring one’s reputation and honor in the wake of such incidents is formidable, particularly given the rapid spread of misinformation compared to the slower dissemination of retractions or clarifications. Addressing the challenges posed by AI-generated content in India and Pakistan is further complicated by inadequate legal frameworks and societal barriers. Laws such as India’s Information Technology Act and Pakistan’s Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act struggle to keep pace with the rapid advancements in AI technology. Furthermore, the societal stigma attached to victims of digital abuse often discourages them from seeking what legal recourse they do have. In Pakistan, 72 percent of women are unaware of how to report online violence and 45 percent think that it is embarrassing to report harassment and assume that the state won’t be able to safeguard their rights. In India, the increase in anonymous complaints about cybercrimes against women and children in India – from 17,460 in 2020 to 56,102 in 2022 – reflects the difficulties women face in seeking justice and the need for more supportive legal and social structures. Despite the significant challenges posed by the potential misuse of AI-generated content, it is important to recognize that technology itself is not inherently detrimental. AI can be a powerful tool for empowering women, providing them with enhanced access to information, services, and new avenues for education and economic participation. Developing gender-sensitive AI applications and creating safer online spaces can play a crucial role in protecting women’s rights and dignity. Effectively combating the risks associated with AI-generated content requires a comprehensive and multifaceted strategy. Updating legal frameworks, enhancing law enforcement training, and increasing public awareness are essential steps in this direction. Traditional law enforcement systems must evolve to provide effective support to women facing digital threats, ensuring access to justice and resources for recovery. In conclusion, as we navigate the complexities of the digital age, it is imperative that the advancements in AI technology are aligned with the values of equity and justice. The potential of AI to deepen the gender divide in India and Pakistan is a stark reminder of the need for vigilance and proactive measures. Ensuring that technological progress does not come at the expense of women’s rights and safety is a collective responsibility. As we continue to explore the vast possibilities of AI, let us commit to using this powerful tool to foster a more equitable and safe world for all women.

Zohaib Altaf

Zohaib Altaf is a research officer at Center for International Strategic Studies, AJK. He is working on nuclear politics and strategies and emerging technologies. He has written for numerous national and international publications including South Asian Voices of Stimson Center, The Diplomat, South China Morning Post, and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Nimra Javed is an associate research officer at Center for International Strategic Studies, AJK. She is working on nuclear politics and strategies and emerging technologies. She has written for numerous national and international publications including South Asian Voices of Stimson Center, The Diplomat, South China Morning Post, and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

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Center for International Strategic Studies AJK, King Abdullah Campus Chatter kalas Muzaffarabad, Azad Jammu and Kashmir