Violence Awareness in Afghanistan

There is a lot of violence that happens, and it can’t all be written about because not everything should be written about,” a staff writer at The New York Times Magazine remarked. At the same time, though, contemporary studies of political violence rely heavily on data reported primarily from major national and international news media reports. This contradiction raises critical questions about public and policy elite awareness and perceptions of ongoing global crises.

It also begs the question: to what extent are written records of global violence accurate? More importantly, if our worldview is shaped by news reports, are we fundamentally missing significant aspects of political and human rights violence around the world?

This crucial and disturbing possibility is at the heart of the research by Andrew Shaver and his Political Violence Lab (PVL) at the University of California, Merced. Their work aims to capture a clearer, on-the-ground signal directly from those afflicted by political violence, revealing potential editorial biases and enhancing the predictability of conflicts.

Enter RIWI.

RIWI’s data was used by PVL in their independent academic validation of anonymous voices reporting violence in Afghanistan. This collaboration involved analyzing existing RIWI datasets and collecting new data commissioned by PVL. One notable study focused on women’s safety perceptions during the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan. This data was collected as the Taliban was seizing power and the US was withdrawing. At that time, RIWI was conducting real-time surveys of Afghans, asking them if they felt safe, if women could travel safely in their areas, and more generally if their lives were at risk with the Taliban.

More recently, PVL and RIWI conducted research in Pakistan ahead of the 2024 general election. We carried out an online, real-time, anonymous survey across all territories and districts, asking people if they had firsthand knowledge of various forms of violence, including ethnic violence, insurgency, mob violence, lynching, abduction, forced disappearance, unpaid labor, sexual harassment, workplace discrimination, forced marriage, honor killings, and torture. Along with the location, we collected data on the ethnic communities targeted by the reported violence.

With this firsthand data, PVL is revolutionizing the logic of data collection on political violence by turning its logic on its head. Rather than passively taking news reports at face value, they work with local reporters in Pakistan to confirm the veracity of the reports collected through RIWI’s anonymous online survey. While this process is ongoing, the results so far are promising, as shown in the accompanying image, which indicates that many instances of human rights abuses reported through the survey have been validated by local journalists.

PVL is currently validating another online, anonymous survey conducted by RIWI in Bangladesh. This survey captures various types of violence at a granular level ahead of the 2024 general election. This ongoing research by PVL further demonstrates the value of combining on-the-ground perspectives with large-scale data collection methods.

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