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Why criticism against “online women activists” is baseless

This blog has been written by Sindhu Abbasi, Member of  DRF’s Network of Women Journalists for Digital Rights.

Minahil Baloch is one of the many young women who’ve garnered a lot of social media clout by tweeting her political views, and sometimes her personal rants too. Her video of sharing a ride bike with a male Careem captain went viral, and was also featured by news websites, including the BBC. She received praise for her courage to not only do what many women would think twice before doing but also make a video and post it on a public platform.

Soon, she was the subject of a lot of criticism, including within the young “woke” circle. She was not doing “real activism”, they said. These are just gimmicks, they added. Some journalists raised questions as to why she, and other young activists, would be featured in a piece in a well-known news magazine.

That many people don’t realise the risks involved for a woman putting herself out in public, to post her pictures publicly, is a testament to the fact that even feminists subscribe to the “real vs fake feminism” dichotomy. Any woman with a presence on a public forum would know that if you voice your opinions on topics like feminism, social issues, tech and sports (because the latter two are “male expert areas”, apparently), you get a barrage of abuse, for absolutely no reason at all. Till this day, I choose to put my pictures on private, partly because I am paranoid about digital security, but partly because I don’t think I have the time to deal with the drama that comes with when you become a “public personality” with pictures on public.

For this reason alone, a woman who chooses to reclaim online and public spaces for herself, realises the drama and abuse that comes with being public but still opts for it, is brave indeed. In a country where everything a woman does, everything she says, becomes political, it shouldn’t be surprising that a woman tries to make riding a bike a political or a feminist statement. It is political, because personal is political.

This, of course, does not follow that that makes the person a “real, on-the-ground activist”. However, those criticising these ordinary women fail to realise that a lot of on-the-ground activists may not always come from working class or middle-class backgrounds either. In fact, many feminist organisations have long had a reputation of having elite and rich women at the top. Also, the notion that any or everyone has the time, money and resources to commit themselves to full-time or regular activism is elitist in itself. People have taxing jobs, families to feed, and all these issues multiply if you are a woman. These may sound excuses to activists who come from rich families, but these are ground realities for the working and middle-class. It is quite natural then that young people looks towards the internet as a quick and easy way to support the causes they believe in, especially since their generation is witness to how the internet has been instrumental in amplifying various issues and causes.

For me, anything a woman does which defies the patriarchy, especially if it involves reclaiming public and online spaces, definitely deserves accolades. I might not place them at the same level as grassroots activists, but then, I have never heard these young women demand that either. I guess it’s time they reclaim the term online activists.

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