Twitter Spaces – uniting Pakistani women through powerful conversations

By Sarah B Haider
Tue, 11, 21

Over the last few months, Pakistani women have started holding several Twitter Spaces related to feminism, women’s problems, domestic violence, child marriages, sexual harassment and other serious issues on social media. You! takes a look…

Twitter Spaces – uniting Pakistani women through powerful conversations

Twitter has always proved to be a fast and effective platform for those who want to voice their opinions – that too in a precise and creative way owing to its word limit. But with the introduction of Twitter Spaces – where anyone can create Clubhouse-style audio chat rooms and hold meaningful or fun-filled discussions, a lot of people who weren’t previously good with writing precisely and witty tweets have gotten a chance to speak their hearts out.

The concept has especially been welcomed by Pakistani women active on Twitter, who have started hosting and partaking in different spaces related to women’s issues and problems.

Unlike the past, where only influential figures always got a chance to speak and lead conversations, anyone can now join and host Twitter Spaces where they can talk about the topics of their choice.

You! recently had a chance to talk to several women who host or participate in Twitter Spaces to know about why they join such spaces, how is this technology shaping discussion related to women’s issues among Pakistani Twitterati, and why is it important to have safe spaces for women on the Internet.

Twitter Spaces and its rise in Pakistan

As aforementioned, Spaces is a new way to have live audio conversations on Twitter. Earlier, only those Twitterati who had more than 600 followers could host spaces, but now, the feature has been rolled out to everyone using Android or iOS mobile phones.

Spaces are public, so anyone can join them as a listener, including those who don’t follow the host or the participants. The host can also invite two co-hosts in their space. To become a speaker, a listener can send a request to the host or the co-hosts for approval.

Over the last few months, Pakistani women – and men – have started holding several Twitter Spaces related to feminism, women’s problems, domestic violence, the causes of unsuccessful marriages and solutions, as well as other serious topics like child marriages, sexual harassment in houses and workplaces, lack of female-only safe spaces on the Internet and real life, the culture of rishta for marriages, and harassment of female journalists on social media, among other serious topics.

‘Touching every aspect of women’s lives’

Speaking to You!, journalist and lawyer Nazrana Yousafzai – who famously hosts Twitter Spaces on women’s issues and feminism – says that the feature is providing a great platform for people to hold serious conversations, especially during the ongoing pandemic when most people have been confined to their homes.

“It is a great way to engage, learn and grow in a society where there is not much room available for analytical conversations on mainstream media,” Yousafzai maintains, adding that among all the spaces, those related to women’s issues and rights are the most interesting ones.

“Since some of the most learned and wise women are hosting and participating in these spaces, they touch every aspect of women's lives in a deeply patriarchal society,” she observes.

Yousafzai, however, points out that some men have been trying to hijack the spaces and giving a bad name to feminism through their discussions.

“The response to these spaces is overwhelming but some men have felt threatened and are trying their best to malign feminism and women’s rights. But overall, it has been a great experience of learning and engaging with like-minded people as well as those having opposite opinions,” she expresses.

Yousafzai further adds that her experience has, overall, been quite fulfilling. “Before these spaces, I didn't know Twitter was flooded with Pakistani feminists, especially young feminists. Their vision, intellect, and insight make me feel optimistic about the status of women in future. I believe they won’t settle for less than equality and equal opportunity and I hope this translates into the mainstream discourse to give a voice to the oppressed.”

Twitter Spaces – uniting Pakistani women through powerful conversations

‘Best thing on social media in recent years’

Pakistani journalist Sumaira Jajja says that in light of her profession, Twitter Spaces has been the “best thing on social media in recent years.”

“Over the past few months, I have heard so many sensible views on so many issues,” she explains, adding that she mostly joins Spaces sessions as a listener and finds it interesting how conversations pan out there.

“It’s more like listening to a talk show on radio. So, many issues that we don’t get to see on mainstream TV channels are now being discussed in Spaces,” she reflects.

Speaking about her experience, Jajja says two spaces she attended have turned out to be the best ones so far. “The first one was about the situation in Afghanistan. People joining the space talked about the evolving situation in real-time, which was very enlightening. This important event and any sensible analysis related to that was missing in mainstream media. The Space sessions by @worqas and @kursed on the issue were timely and engaging, with excellent commentary,” she recalls.

Another Space that Jajja joined was on men’s mental health in Pakistan, hosted by @has_hosh which had experts sharing their views on the topic.

“This is an issue that needs to be highlighted and heard in traditional and social media. It was nice to see people sharing their personal experiences and inspiring others to seek therapy,” she elucidates.

“On a lighter note, I attended some spaces on rishtas and matchmaking. Was interesting to see people opening up to strangers about their expectations and what they were seeking in potential partners. Some of the demands were funny, others ridiculous.”

Shedding light on spaces dedicated to women’s issues, Jajja observes that the technology is, unfortunately, also being used to peddle misogynistic and vile views.

“Certain problematic individuals have used ‘feminism’ as bait to bash women and mock the physical, mental, and sexual violence women face in this country,” she warns. “But overall, I think spaces have changed the social media landscape. It has literally given a voice to everyone,” she comments.

‘Wonderful sisterhood’

When approached for a comment, writer Tazeen Javed – who actively participates in spaces related to women’s rights almost every day – says that the concept has provided people with a more inclusive way of communication.

“The unique thing about Twitter Spaces is that it allows people to engage and respond to each other in real-time, which makes it possible to discuss something instead of people tweeting about it in the cyberspace and others responding to a tweet after hours or days or sometimes, not at all,” states Javed.

When asked about how women-related spaces, hosted by women, are creating an impact and why they are important, Javed elaborates, “For starters, I am seeing women talking about women’s issues as they face them. Usually, any discussion about women’s issues on mainstream media is carried out by panels full of men with a token woman here and there.

As opposed to that, Twitter Spaces allow women from all age groups, social, academic, and economic backgrounds to get together and talk about their issues, she says.

“It is something we have not seen before. At least, not this consistently as these spaces happen almost every day.”

Talking about the impact of these spaces, Javed believes that it is too early to tell how the platform is going to bring about any social or policy-based changes. “Nonetheless, it brings me joy to see women sharing their stories freely, talking about their issues, and even venting out. For some, it is therapeutic. The sisterhood and support they have found here are wonderful,” she opines.

Javed also says that Twitter Spaces has given her a chance to genuinely reconnect with old friends with whom her interactions were limited to likes or re-tweets.

‘Vigilance also required’

Twitter user Dastaan, who also frequents and participates in spaces related to women’s issues, is of the view that while these spaces could be time-consuming if not managed (some run for hours and hours without interruption), they are a positive addition to social media.

“So long as one manages their time and screens what sort of spaces they are interested in attending, one can meet so many like-minded individuals and expand their worldview,” notes Dastaan.

However, she cautions users against the potential misuse of these spaces which also put women at risk. “It is still social media so you never know who would be listening to the discussion or recording them, or be present in the spaces with bad intentions,” she maintains. “Therefore, vigilance is also required when navigating these virtual social spaces,” she adds.

Need for social media boundaries

Tehreem Azeem, a journalist and digital media consultant, tells You! that her experience on Twitter Spaces has so far been very good.

“I also see these spaces as a way to network as you get to know a lot of people. I live in China, so having conversations with women and men from Pakistan makes me feel nostalgic about the problems women face there on a day-to-day basis,” shares Azeem.

She also sheds light on the concept of ‘safe spaces’ for women and says that while she was working with a non-governmental organisation called Shirkat Gah in Pakistan, it used to host conventions, conferences, and discussions on women’s issues and often used the term ‘safe space’.

“I was confused about the idea of a safe space, but now, after joining Twitter Spaces, I realise how important the concept is. I think Twitter Spaces cannot be called ‘safe spaces’ per se because the discussions happening there every day do not have an impact,” she points out.

For Azeem, the discussions taking place in spaces could only be effective if someone can measure them in some way. Giving an example, Azeem recalls that there was a 12-hour space about feminism hosted by user, Hanzala Tayyab, who gave the mic to people with very misogynistic viewpoints and allowed them to continue with their vitriol against women. And while women and some men tried to salvage the conversion by coming up with reasonable arguments related to women’s issues, the space soon took a toxic turn.

“It’s a good concept for like-minded people and feminists to connect. But the spaces, however, have to be topic-oriented and moderated. Therefore, it is a big responsibility for the host. There should be some rules, otherwise, people can talk about harmful things too, just like it happened in the 12-hour space on feminism,” she suggests.

Azeem says that some people hold spaces based on the agenda to sabotage women’s rights and the progress they have made so far.

“No matter how much you reason with them, they will never understand you. And even if they do, they won’t appreciate you. They won’t take sides with you, they will shift blames on victims, and even say bad things to you publicly,” laments Azeem. “Therefore, you have to define some boundaries for your social media presence. Otherwise, as a woman, you can face a lot of troubles on the internet,” she warns.

Nonetheless, like other women who spoke to You!, Azeem appreciates the solidarity which has developed among women who frequent Twitter Spaces to talk about their issues.

“It’s good to see women sharing their experiences in these spaces and connecting with each other,” she concludes.