Sex and Facebook posts: Women in Pakistan find safe space in secret group

Published: June 3, 2016
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The secret's out, though.
PHOTO: FACEBOOK

The secret's out, though. PHOTO: FACEBOOK

The secret’s out. If you’re active on social media, you’re likely to have heard of Soul Bitches, a closed Facebook group where over 4,000 women-only members are allowed to voice their unadulterated opinions without instigating anger, ridicule or judgement. If you haven’t heard of it, you have now.

What isn’t a secret though is that the discussions, conversations, anecdotes and advice posted on this group are things that ought to be said freely overground. But let’s face it, that’s next to impossible without facing repercussions by a religious, patriarchal and ever judgmental society.

With the rapid rise in smart phones, however, it’s become easier than ever to hide behind a screen as you write about your religious or political beliefs and desires. While this has given people on social media staggering amount of guts, leading to cyber bullying of all sorts as well as cat-fishing, hiding behind a monitor has also made it easier for people to voice their opinions, without worrying about the consequences.

Facebook in particular, has been used to make a plethora of online groups, in which people can discuss anything under the sun.

Two such groups created by Pakistani women have popped up on Facebook, where they can discuss anything they want: One is Soul Bitches and the other, Soul Sisters.

A false depiction of Pakistan

Soul Sisters was the first of its kind, where over 10,000 women joined in to discuss their careers, marital issues and opinions on social issues.

The group, however, hit a slump when the the page’s admin was accused of monitoring the group too heavily by deleting posts she deemed inappropriate. A former member, Rabeeya Latif, claims any post with the word “sex” was instantly deleted, and only married women could talk about their sex lives as long as they substituted the ever-so-scandalous word with ‘it’ or ‘…’.

When members had had enough of this moral policing, Rabeeya decided to make a group of her own, called ‘Soul Bitches.’

Contrary to the name, Rabeeya wanted to make a group free of judgment and policing. Rabeeya told The Express Tribune that with Soul Sisters “people didn’t have a completely open forum,” so she wanted to make a group where people could “find other people to connect with and weren’t bound by somebody’s rules.”

In the groups description, she writes, “I wanted to make a group where people aren’t scared to write exactly how they feel. I want everyone here to feel secure enough to rant or talk about anything and everything. It’s a judgement free zone, where I won’t be deleting posts, or comments unless you are insulting or ridiculing people.”

Rabeeya’s post on her Facebook group. PHOTO: FACEBOOK

With over 4,000 members, the secret Facebook group has provided space for women to discuss anything in the world, including their careers, opinions on social issues, their lovers, alcohol and sex — all free of judgment.

Like anything you post on the internet however, the group has become far from secret and has gained a reputation for being — for lack of a better word — scandalous. Screenshots taken from threads on the group have been shared with outsiders, leading to immense judgment and ridicule.

The most recent of which came from Pakistan’s TV host and VJ Waqar Zaka, who posted a story on Snapchat mocking the women on the group by name, and threatening to hack their Facebook accounts to “show the world who they really are.”

Screenshot of Waqar Zaka’s Snapchat.

Zoha, a member of Soul Bitches tells The Express Tribune that despite screenshots being shared, she is still comfortable posting on the group. In order to combat the lack of privacy, members can now post on each other’s behalf, to retain anonymity, reveals Zoha. “People can post anonymously for others so I still don’t feel uncomfortable about posting on the group. The group always encourages members to find alternative solutions to a problem and not just give up so I believe that where there is a will, there will always be a way.”

This begs the question: Is there really any space outside of the walls of your own bedroom where it’s safe to voice your true concerns and opinions? It seems highly unlikely.

Another member of Soul Bitches, Madiha, tells The Express Tribune, “I don’t believe there is a safe space for women.  At all. Anywhere. Yes it’s absolutely important to have and many will keep trying to create it. The Internet can never be a safe space but if the girls on the group could try and respect each other’s privacy it can turn into the closest possible safe space one could ask for on the Internet. There are so many issues us women are either not ready to discuss, in fear of shame, or are just frightened to talk about… we need to protect ourselves and understand what we can do to build a safe, healthy environment.”

Political participation: Speakers call for women empowerment

Another issue in such groups, however, is the aspect of cyber bullying. Where do you draw the line between freedom of speech, and bullying on such groups? Rabeeya explains that she monitors posts on Soul Bitches regularly, and claims that there is a difference between an opinion that offends someone, and bullying. If a member has a differing opinion, she should “give a reason why she feels that way,” explains Rabeeya, instead of talking down to people without reason.

In a society brimming with rules about what is appropriate and inappropriate for women, a group where women can find support in each other, is crucial.

Zoha reveals, “I’ve heard some people say that ‘SB is such good entertainment’ and I always wonder how they would feel if the problems the girls were posting, were happening to them. They pick and choose only to look at the information that appeals to them and supports their claims about SB being ‘useless’ and ‘entertaining’ and ignore the parts where other girls are uniting and helping each other out.”

On the surface, it may seem like fashion trends and male-bashing are the topics of choice, but women have questions about what to expect from their wedding night in an arranged marriage, what to do if a male authority figure such as a teacher acts inappropriate, and how to succeed in a male-dominated labour market — all questions that need to be addressed. With a lack of privacy, however, there is no space safe enough to find support.

Have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments.

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Reader Comments (15)

  • Bhatti
    Jun 3, 2016 - 2:26PM

    What is express tribune coming to? All controversial topics???Recommend

  • man like ouzzy
    Jun 3, 2016 - 4:40PM

    ShamefullRecommend

  • Amber
    Jun 3, 2016 - 5:27PM

    Good for the women of Pakstan. Yet another example of men freaking out the second women get together and try to uplift one another. Men and their fragile male egos will never be happy unless women are safely bickering amongst themselves. I’m so sick of the patriarchy. #TryBeatingMeLightlyRecommend

  • man like ouzzy
    Jun 3, 2016 - 6:10PM

    @amber living in an islamic country and talking about alcohol and pre maritial sex is obviously a tabbo subject thatvwill definately raise eyebrows not from just men but muslim women too. Im sick of tired of ppl like you that think all pakistani women are like this. Educate yourself and meet a few pakistani women.Recommend

  • MA
    Jun 3, 2016 - 8:12PM

    I am sure they also have a way to screen if the member gender is actually female???Recommend

  • What?
    Jun 3, 2016 - 11:42PM

    @man like ouzzy:
    What are you saying? I mean, how is it at all related to what Amber said? Where did she say anything about all Pakistani women being like anything?

    It says quite clearly that the page has only 4000 members, not 40 million. So it obviously represents…wait for it…exactly 4000 Pakistani women. Who wanted to talk to each other (as in like-minded women) and not to all Pakistani women. Other Pakistani women who are not like this are not being forced to join.

    I hope this was helpful for you to better understand the situation.Recommend

  • SamT
    Jun 4, 2016 - 12:35AM

    Any link to the group!!!Recommend

  • Xyz
    Jun 4, 2016 - 6:35AM

    @man like ouzzy:
    Why is it shameful? Don’t tell me men in Pakistan are condemned if they talk about alcohol or sex.Recommend

  • UZ
    Jun 4, 2016 - 7:40AM

    And irony is – this is gender specific forum. When will we grow enough to start discussing sex ‘issues’ in gender neutral manner? Recommend

  • Coexistence
    Jun 4, 2016 - 11:44AM

    Look sisters (please try not hating that word),
    I’m all for women wanting to discuss problems and issues; I’m totally for a women only group as well; but I’m not for a human being crossing defined lines and feeling proud or happy for doing it. It’s prohibited for men as much as it is for women. Anyone who cannot find freedom within God defined limits need to relook at what they actually want.
    PS: How much freedom did Michael Jackson and Prince have- what did they do with it / it do to them? Recommend

  • Bisma
    Jun 4, 2016 - 5:05PM

    I wish we did not have to resort to closed places to express our selves. But this is our reality. How can I join this group?Recommend

  • Shaziya
    Jun 5, 2016 - 7:28AM

    How is discussing issues such as sex crossing defined lines? It’s apparently taboo in Pakistan as in many other countries so WHATS SO WRONG in doing it in private groups? I dont understand. Would you rather a woman google everything I mean do you not understand that getting opinions and advice form other women is very helpful? AND the group is NOT just about sex trust me. It’s more about about everyday issues, friend problems, job issues, dealing with life!!??? So plz. Don’t try to say we can’t find “freedom in God”. God is with us and he sure doesn’t condemn us talking about our natural issues which HE helped instill in us. Please open your eyes and realize that society is changing whether you like it or not. Recommend

  • Ali Rohu
    Jun 5, 2016 - 10:21AM

    I don’t understand how people can stand this Waqar Zaka character. He should be sidelined with all the rest of the freakshows in Pakistan.Recommend

  • IceMan
    Jun 11, 2016 - 5:40PM

    I think now a days young women do talk their social or daily life grievances or problems, but as the article has mentioned ,married women discussing their Sex life with other women and rather taking opinion is a Big Problem in itself because this means either their relations with their husband are not that sort or they are among the ones who experiment and have no problems in advising the new way of doing sex.Good friends may do discuss and it happens but specifiying a group for this is kinda “Tharki” thing to do.I think even most liberal men or a husbands not always or would like to keep advising their buddies on how much and how to have sex,i think we live in the age of google and smartphones by using them we can keep privacy and make a smart use of them even for our private lives…..Recommend

  • Rubi Naz
    Aug 22, 2016 - 12:09AM

    A more explicite example of women writing on sex is the book, “My Sex Life in Paris” by Saira Mir. In this book, a Pakistani woman tells the shocking story of her sex life in Paris. Private sex parties, swapping partners, exclusive swingers clubs… A wild sexual life. A unique story of its own kind. Recommend

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