First published in the January-February edition of Aurora.
For as long as I can remember, expressing myself on the internet came easily to me. Scratching up Cybernet cards and using all my 30 minutes of ‘internet time’ on Blogspot, was my favourite part of the day as a teenager. It was exciting to be writing on the internet only to find that what seemed to be mundane parts of my very average life, were stories that people in other parts of the world looked forward to reading. Fast forward 16 years and in a satisfying, self-fulfilling prophecy, the internet became my full-time job.
At first, it sounded dreadful when the older generation wanted to know my job description. And it drew a lot of awkward stares when my complex explanation of what Soul Sisters Pakistan (SSP) is (an online community and a blog) was translated as: “Acha toh tum pura din buss Facebook pe guzarti ho?” Then it got better. “Acha toh yeh kabhi kabhar TV pe bhi ajati hai. Baaki waqt Facebook pe guzarti hai.”
The Millennials though, specifically the urban women in Pakistan, recognise the platform and many find it to be a place of solace, new friendships and advice (with a dash of arguments). When I first started Soul Sisters Pakistan four years ago, the objective was only to share my thoughts with a small community of women and have them do the same. But as word got around, the conversations broadened and the audience grew. It was remarkable to see the extent to which Pakistani women needed a place where they could vent their feelings, even if anonymously. And it was so thrilling to find hidden talents among the many members who sought support, help and motivation from one another. It was when I started receiving calls from brands and TV channels that I realised what I had created.
Now, because I reside in Jeddah (due to my husband’s job) and most of my work is based in Pakistan, I have to travel almost every alternate month to Karachi to fulfil my commitments. In between travelling and my personal life, I would say being me is extremely hectic! Yet, surprisingly, I relish every minute of it. I guess that happens when you enjoy what you do. Touch wood.
"I love the fact that SSP platform inspired the start of many others and we have multiple other Pakistani women-oriented groups now operating via Facebook, which give women a space and the freedom to express themselves. For a society like ours, where women still go through multiple dilemmas (that should have been left behind in the 19th century), these safe spaces have a very significant impact."
Moving on to a day in my life. As much as I would like to say that it starts with a cup of lemon water and cathartic yoga, it is actually quite the opposite. I wake up with my daughter talking next to my face (much earlier than I would prefer). I then head first to the kitchen to drown my lethargy in a cup of vanilla latté. In between breakfast rituals and bathroom turns, I like to check my emails for meetings/commitments during the day, and approve pending posts on the Soul Sisters Pakistan Facebook group.
In Karachi, I have converted the guest room at my parents’ house into my office and that is where I work from when I am in town. In the earlier part of my day, I like to wrap up work that I need to get done online after which, I generally head out for meetings.
If I have no meetings, I almost always have other commitments – events, shoots or editing work. Yet, on some days, I like to imagine none of these exist and I go for a spontaneous lunch date with a friend. I like to do this particularly when I have a truckload of work, because procrastination gives me an adrenaline rush. There, I said it.
Until a few months ago, I had let work take over my life. It’s not easy moderating a group of 40,000 women – since all of us have strong opinions and the right to voice them. On top of that, the SSP blog which publishes a new story every other day, takes up a fair amount of time even though I have my brilliant sub-editor to assist me every step of the way. The Soul Sisters Pakistan community also hosts small events several times a year. We keep them thematic and the idea is to give women living in the same city an opportunity to meet each other, socialise, network, as well as get a chance to let their hair down. The events have always been a success and tickets run out in minutes when registration opens. Other than that, I have also re-launched my own blog – Kanwalful – a few months ago, in order to share snippets of my own life.
"It was remarkable to see the extent to which Pakistani women needed a place where they could vent their feelings, even if anonymously. And it was so thrilling to find hidden talents among the many members who sought support, help and motivation from one another. It was when I started receiving calls from brands and TV channels that I realised what I had created."
With so much happening, I decided at the end of last year to cut back on my 14 to 15 hour work day and devote more time to myself and to my family because it is very easy to turn into a workaholic without realising it. And since a large amount of my day is consumed in talking to people and directing them towards some sort of professional help – whether psychological, legal or financial – it can get emotionally draining for me as well.
Overall, these are exciting times. Women have stepped up their game in the past year – globally. We may not have shattered patriarchy, but our echoes have definitely bounced off all the right corners. It’s been an honour to have given women in Pakistan the opportunity to express themselves and so humbling to know that outing their thoughts on the platform was only because of the sense of security that came with it. And I love the fact that this platform inspired the start of many others and we have multiple other Pakistani women-oriented groups now operating via Facebook, which give women a space and the freedom to express themselves. For a society like ours, where women still go through multiple dilemmas (that should have been left behind in the 19th century), these safe spaces have a very significant impact.
On a similar note, to have witnessed firsthand the evolution of digital media in Pakistan has been an exhilarating experience. It’s absolutely incredible to see that consumers now want to see real people with real lives and how they associate with a specific product. It’s believable. It’s relatable. And it definitely empowers consumers to ask for firsthand information from someone they trust. It also places a lot more responsibility on our shoulders as influencers and that we only take on endorsements and campaigns that we truly believe in. And personally, I would pick the people who believe in me over every other thing, any day.
Kanwal Anes Ahmed is the Founder of the Facebook group Soul Sisters Pakistan. She can be found on Instagram @kanwalful.