Social media in recent times has become a powerful tool for justice around the globe. Campaigns like #MeToo, #JusticeForZainab, #TimesUp have taken over the internet and are helping women voice their concerns. In Pakistan, the growth of cell phones, especially smartphones, has now made a use of social networking sites like Facebook Twitter, Instagram are popular ways of socializing within Pakistan for international reach.
These social networking sites not only help in communication but also play a major role in empowering women, encouraging civic participation among women in Western, Middle East and Asian countries. Today on women’s day we look at people who have using social media and technology for gender empowerment.
The broadening of economic horizons
While social networking sites allow individuals to communicate but also use it as a means of e-commerce, “It is only due to social media I was able to set up my catering business,” says Ayesha Ali founder of Ye Ghar Ka Hai, “I started from food forums then I made my own page. Only through facebook advertisement, I was able to gain a following and it went through to thousands of people”. YGKH was created in 2014, by Ayesha Ali who is a foodie at heart. Her work was praised by her family who encouraged her to start up her home-based catering services. Today her page stands at 50,000 likes and counting. While she started off as a one woman army, she has now employed three helpers to help her cope with her orders.
Another startup named HerFloor sees entrepreneurship as the only choice for many women who are not able to find jobs because of different issues. After the launch of HerCareer.pk in 2013, they planned to build a separate network for women entrepreneurs and skilled women where they can get access to market without investing marketing dollars or without marketing consultants’ help,
“Lots of women quit their jobs when they start their families, and end up launching their own businesses but lack marketing dollars and skills to grow their businesses. Her floor is the community where we connect them to the right buyers without breaking their bank accounts,” says Abdul Muizz, founder of her floor and HerCareer. HerFloor has about 25,000 likes and followers on their page.
Not only does it help with home-based business the internet has also created a space for people to voice their socio-economic concerns and to plead their opinions. It caters to issues which the mainstream media does not necessarily address on a daily basis. We are seeing more and more people engaged in cyber-activism, thus the rise of hashtags like #MeToo and #JusticeForZainab. Various pages on social media are trying to combat taboos with their work. Ladies only is a web series that tells the stories of urban Pakistani women, Just over a year old it has been able to talk on topics that are a daily struggle for Pakistani women,
“It comprised of 6 episodes on its first season but as the page began to get a fan following. I realized that the space that had been created was precious and rare and so we branched out to “in conversation” series last Ramzan where real women talk about their experiences- this offshoot series, running off the same page is called HOWL,” says Anam Abbas, producer and director at Ladies Only which has about 8000 followers but more than 20,000 views per video.
Through her work she likes to reveal the complexities of women’s experiences in the society, “Nothing is black and white; I also like to promote radical feminist ideas while at the same time keeping a critical approach to our own lived experiences as humans on a difficult path,” says Anam.
While women in Pakistan are comfortable using social media for interaction they do not necessarily feel comfortable discussing their issues publicly. This has given rise to secret or closed Facebook groups where women are able to get social support without the fear of being exposed. Soul Sisters Pakistan, one of the most famous secret groups in the country with about 40,000 members and over 1 million page followers, was made by Kanwal Ahmed to give women a platform where they could vent their feelings and their minds out. Kanwal claims that the group has inspired others to create similar female-centric groups and has become bigger than she expected.
Kanwal also sees technology as a tool of empowerment.
“For women in Pakistan where family pressures often overtake personal aspirations technology offers a breather as well as a virtual workspace where they can find their independence and pursue their passions,” says Kanwal.
Using Technology to do it all
Technological support is also helping women balance their work-life more effectively, Another startup Rise Mom set up by Sihah Waris back in 2016 when her sister gave birth and thought of quitting her job to take care of her baby, “My sister was planning to quit her job after she gave birth. I also had a friend who left her job for the same reason and used to cry as she missed her job, her company even offered her a raise but she wasn’t satisfied and wanted to raise her child on her own. I identified the problems and saw that many women in my circle had gone through the same,” says Sihah. Her startup Rise Mom creates partnerships with Day cares, allowing working mothers video access to their child throughout the day.
These examples are demonstrative of the different ways in which Pakistani women are using technology to explore and expand their own boundaries.
Annam Lodhi is a Program Manager at Media Matters for Democracy