[Asia] How is social media enabling self-expression for women?

When we Skype every evening, my mother readily updates me on Whatsapp pictures she’s received and sometimes gets distracted by Facebook status updates. She lives by the belief that everything is improving as we embrace modernity and technology. Even with so many disturbing reports of multiple incidents and having to restart life in a new city- that not at will, she has this optimism.  It’s the reason why we both did not grow up bitter. Even when she casually mentioned how at 19, she didn’t take up that job in the accounting office because her elder brother expressed surprise at how they could possibly work in the same office. Mother did not pass on the element of how perhaps she got treated unfairly.

Fairness  is a subjective term. Terms get defined usually by people in power positions who are ‘respected more’. This power in real life gets enhanced on social viral networks, questioning the basis of whether they really are as democratic as they promise to be. I started with: Are women represented ‘equally and fairly’ in media? 

This got filtered to home grounds (women in the subcontinent tend to have set social norms even more rigorously ingrained compared to the western counterparts): Are women in the Indian sub-continent represented ‘fairly’ in media? I decided to narrow it down even further to just ‘social media and self-expression’. For multiple reasons: primary being what was making these social media networks so special for women, and why were so many women outpacing men in their social media usage? Did it answer a need that was not addressed in their otherwise veiled existence?

16 year old Malala’s persistence was a social media event pic, more via

That’s when I got in touch with the author of a blog I currently love, and Farahnaz Zahidi, on her personal experiences. She works in the Express Tribune, Pakistan- and is a media person.

How did the online space enable and enhance?

FZ: Social media came into my life as a journalist some 5 years ago. The motivation was that while I am a puritan and love the feel of the hard-copy of the newspaper, I know it’s a flickering candle. So the transition was necessary. I believe in human connections to the core. I believe in one-on-one and this helped me get connected with my readers. Feedback helped me improve. Also, I found an international readership and journalistic connections globally. Social media right now is the platform or showcase on which I can display and exhibit my work. Initially it was my blog and Facebook, but now it is Twitter and Flickr to share my work.

The motivation to blog and share?

FZ: On my blog I do not have a 650 word limit. My own blog, in particular, allows me a lot of creative licence. There are challenges a journo faces in today’s world. My photo-journalism and portrait photography supports my work and helps me tell stories more effectively.

As a Pakistani on an open social media network?

FZ: As a conflict zone, Pakistan suffers from stereo-typical depiction in global media. We, the Pakistani journalists reporting from on-ground, want to tell the world what our country and people are actually like, the good success stories of a resilient nation. We also need catharsis, Twitter helps. It helps me connect with wonderful people. But also to people I would not have access to otherwise- scholars, writers, activists, politicians and people who need their stories be told.

As a Pakistani woman on an open social network?

FZ: Women of Pakistan, contrary to what is believed, have always been at the forefront of activism and spear-headed change, specially as journalists. Social media has given them yet another tool, they are braver and say it like it is :-). Awareness is empowerment so this makes us stronger in that sense too.

So far I spoke with many women, and I’ve come to realise, there doesn’t seem to be a great difference in how women ‘use’ social media in the West versus the East. Familiar themes- connections, sharing work, catharsis, awareness- show up. However, just given the base in terms of the ingrained social norms in the East, perhaps social media may be able to fulfill its ‘democratic’ promise more truly through these women from the sub-continent.

And, then my eyes brightened up as I read what Farahnaz had to share, her idealism and optimism made me think of my mother’s spirit on everything is improving. Perhaps, it really is.

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