The rise of social media and use of smartphones has enabled women to transcend their traditional gender norms. And this is particularly true for women in Kashmir and Sudan. Taking advantage of the modern gadget, women are now spreading their wings.
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There is a group of 45 Sudanese women entrepreneurs called Facebook traders – tajirat al-Facebook. There is a similar concept in Kashmir with over ten thousand women of various professions, religion and walks of life. And they are using smartphones to trade goods such as garments, fashion accessories, cosmetics, perfumes, traditional dresses, kids clothing and food stuff etc. from their homes. Online activities has enabled the women to work at home without jeopardising social expectations based on class, gender and religion. Research shows that Facebook and WhatsApp has allowed them to create spaces where they could socially interact exclusively with other women and contribute to broader political debates. Many Facebook Sudanese traders posted flags and other iconic images from the uprising on their commercial adverts. Business intertwined with political engagement contributed to the protest from people’s living rooms. Griet Steel, a researcher and Assistant Professor at Utrecht University, says this shows the potential that online activities by Sudan’s Facebook traders have to help women navigate restrictive environments.
Steel says the Facebook traders are Sudanese women who are generally economically better off because their husbands or male relatives have well-paid jobs. “They are well educated and have enjoyed higher education opportunities at prestigious universities in Sudan and abroad. But they ended their professional ambitions or careers when they got married and had children. Several women said their husbands discouraged them from working outside the home. The husbands considered it their duty to financially support the family and were concerned about their own reputation. They were also concerned about their wives’ attention being taken away from the house and children.” This is also very much similar to the Kashmiri Facebook women traders.
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Steel said though women started their online activities out of boredom and to escape social isolation, because of the state and country’s economic downturn, their activities are now an important ‘hidden’ addition to the household budget. “Online trade, through social media, meant the women could combine work with family, business and fun. It has created opportunities for them to distract themselves from some of the constraints they faced as housewives, but also to be more actively engaged in city life in general.”