Female fans save show of Pakistan’s taboo-busting ‘Kickstarter Oprah’


Dubbed as Pakistan’s Kickstarter Oprah, Kanwal Ahmed, 31, was able to save her show after fans raised more than five million rupees (around £23,000) in less than a week using the online crowdfunding platform.

Filming started this week of the third season of the web-series Conversations With Kanwal, in which Ahmed sheds light on taboo issues in south Asia such as marital rape, cyberbullying and femicide.

Ahmad is a Pakistani entrepreneur, activist, talkshow host, executive producer and the founder of Soul Sisters Pakistan, a Facebook group created for women to discuss taboo topics and break the culture of silence.

She is also the host of her own web-series “Conversations with Kanwal”.

The crowdfunding success was a remarkable achievement as the majority of fans were women living in Pakistan, where fewer than 30% are employed, so are often financially dependent on their spouses and don’t have their own bank accounts.

Ahmed’s journey towards becoming the nation’s favourite agony aunt began seven years ago when she launched Soul Sisters Pakistan (SSP), a women-only Facebook forum, where users could discuss taboo subjects such as domestic violence without fear of retribution.

It also gave women the freedom to talk about anything from sex and relationships to Netflix and cooking tips.

In a religiously and socially conservative nation such as Pakistan, where a selfie can result in an “honour killing”, SSP has become a lifeline for members or “Soulies” as they call themselves.

“Many women don’t have anywhere to get information about sex and relationships and for many, their first experience of both may be on their wedding night,” said Ahmed. “It’s considered an act of shame to talk about something as intimate as sex.

“It’s ironic, because the word marriage is on everyone’s mind when a girl turns 18, but sex, body rights, contraception are hardly ever discussed with her. We grow up with biology books stapled to hide the reproduction section.”

SSP has more than 250,000 very active and vocal members, the majority of whom are aged between 18 and 35 and it was important to Kanwal that SSP should be an inclusive space for women of all backgrounds, including religious minorities, she said.

“SSP hosts a very diverse audience and the kinds of topics we discuss include those that are often considered shameful, so the SSP community routinely gets targeted for ‘leading women astray’,” said Ahmed. “When you try to challenge problematic norms, the backlash will occur. But it doesn’t mean we will back down. We only keep fighting harder.”

Two years ago, Ahmed was selected as a community leader by Facebook in recognition of her efforts to use the social network to help others. She used its grant to launch Conversations with Kanwal on YouTube.

While the grant sustained the series for two seasons, it wasn’t enough to keep the show going, but despite hitting 30 million views , most mainstream channels refused to touch the format because it was deemed too controversial, while others found it too hardhitting.

Like her Soulies, Ahmed turned to SSP for advice and launched a Kickstarter campaign. Donations flooded in, from a few rupees to thousands of dollars.

“Financial independence is not considered a birthright for those who identify as women. Many women either open a joint account with a male counterpart or only deal in cash, which is why it’s such a big deal,” said Ahmed. “It truly is a show that is powered by the people.” (Source: The Guardian)