Facebook deletes popular Pakistan support group for women, founder says

Facebook has deleted a women-only group in Pakistan with more 300,000 members who used it to freely discuss taboo topics, its founder told AFP on Friday.

Soul Sisters Pakistan, created in 2013, acted as a support group for women who shared information about sex, divorce, and domestic violence – issues often deemed inappropriate to discuss publicly in conservative, Muslim-majority Pakistan.

“This group means so much to women in Pakistan who now have nowhere to go to,” Kanwal Ahmed told AFP.

According to Ahmed, Facebook deleted the group late Wednesday after warning her of an unspecified “intellectual property violation” linked to a post.

“They didn’t even show which post it was,” said Ahmed, who was selected as a community leader by Facebook in 2018 thanks to the group’s success.

“It’s literally personal stories and anonymous posts.”

Pakistani women attend a rally to mark International Women’s Day in Islamabad. More than 80 per cent of women in Pakistan have reported being harassed in public places, UN Women said in 2020. Photo: EPA-EFE

AFP has contacted Facebook for comment.

The group enabled members to offer each other informal help, ranging from legal advice to emotional support, on topics that might otherwise have drawn abuse if posted about publicly.

“The suspension of Soul Sisters Pakistan speaks to the arbitrary and non-transparent ways in which social media platforms operate and subtle ways in which community guidelines of these platforms can work against users in the Global South,” Shmyla Khan, a digital rights researcher in Lahore, told AFP.

Soul Sisters Pakistan has previously come under fire from critics who accused it of promoting divorce and “wild” behaviour challenging tradition and patriarchal norms.

More than 80 per cent of women in Pakistan have reported being harassed in public places, UN Women said in 2020, while around a quarter of women have experience physical or emotional violence from their husband or partner, according to a 2017-2018 health ministry survey.

“I feel lost without the group,” said Shiza, who only gave her first name. “This is where I used to go when life seemed too difficult to bear.”

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Women barred from voting in rural villages in Pakistan under tribal norms ahead of general elections

Women barred from voting in rural villages in Pakistan under tribal norms ahead of general elections

Online censorship is rife in Pakistan.

Social media platform X has been disrupted consistently by the government since shortly after the national election in February, which was marred by rigging allegations.

TikTok has twice been banned by the telecommunications authorities over “inappropriate content”, lifted only after assurances that the platform would better moderate content.

More than 18 million videos were removed between October and December, according to latest data from TikTok, while YouTube was banned between 2012 and 2016 over content deemed blasphemous.

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