Shunned by Sponsors, a Controversial Show for Pakistani Women Gets Powered by Social Media - New Canadian Media
Kanwal Ahmed (centre in yellow with a green scarf) has given a quarter of a million women a platform to discuss taboo issues of gender violence through her Soul Sisters Pakistan Facebook site. (supplied photo)

Shunned by Sponsors, a Controversial Show for Pakistani Women Gets Powered by Social Media

“Soul Sisters Pakistan” started as a small Facebook group in 2013 and has now become a powerful global online community to support oppressed women. Founder of the group, Kanwal Ahmed, tells New Canadian Media why she was compelled to amplify the voices of the women she encountered.

Before she called Canada home, and before she became a champion for women’s rights, Kanwal Ahmed worked as a make-up artist in Pakistan. As she applied eyeshadow and blush to her client’s faces they told her distressing stories of abuse and harassment. 

Ahmed heard countless stories ranging from unapologetic demands for dowries to body shaming of women by families of prospective grooms. She heard tales of sexual harassment, and of intimate videos shared online without consent, along with horrific accounts of domestic violence and abuse of transgender women. 

Ahmed empathized with their situations and took it upon herself to help them beyond her make-up studio. In August 2013, she created a private Facebook page just for women called “Soul Sisters Pakistan,” (SSP) where they could fearlessly talk about their experiences and garner support.  

“Women are so isolated in Pakistan. They don’t have shelters, government support, counselling or helplines where they can discuss their problems fearlessly,” says Ahmed. 

What began as a small online group soon became a powerful social media community with over 250,000 members. In 2018 Ahmed was recognized by Facebook as one of the world’s top 115 impactful community leaders and was awarded a grant of $50,000 to serve her community better.

The SSP group on Facebook became a lifeline for abused women, connecting them to help and advice through social media, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

“As soon as a member would post a story, comments would follow,” says Ahmed. 

Beenish Waqas, a lawyer and founder of a non-profit organization by the name of “Madadgar” (meaning “helper”) is a “soul sister” and knows the value of online connections.

“SSP has provided a conducive environment to women where they feel supported and build courage to initiate a stand for themselves,” said Waqas who has provided legal assistance for victims trapped in abusive relationships through the Facebook page.

As the social media site grew in popularity, so did the online backlash. Ahmed was taunted as a torchbearer of “female defiance.” Offline, people spread derogatory and judgemental remarks about the group.

Kanwal Ahmed, 32, now calls Markham, Ontario home. (Instagram)

The beginning of “Conversations with Kanwal” 

Undeterred by the criticism, Ahmed resolved to continue raising awareness of the misogyny faced by Pakistani women and created a trailer for a talk show to pitch to sponsors. But she was turned away repeatedly.

“Every time I tried to present it to producers and directors, my idea was rejected. People considered the content vulgar. Sponsors and PR agencies were hesitant, as they felt that the discussions were unconventional and unfashionable, away from glitz and glamour which usually generates larger audiences,” Ahmed explained.  

But the barriers came down in September 2018 when she won the Facebook grant. Seven months later she debuted her first digital talk show “Conversations with Kanwal,” sharing unheard and moving stories of the group members on a global platform.

The first season of “Conversations with Kanwal” gained over 15 million views. Attracted to the audience numbers, sponsors started to pour in for the second season. But in the third season, they abandoned the show again after Ahmed took an unflinching turn.

Ahmed wanted to discuss culturally taboo topics such as the sexual abuse of children, sexless marriage, and female foeticide. This time for financial support, she turned to her Facebook community and launched a crowdfunding campaign. 

The response was overwhelming. Group members from around the world helped her fundraise. Soul Sisters members from North America alone were able to raise CAD $45000 within six days, surmounting the actual target.  

The power of sisterhood

Saima Naz, founder and principal of “I Learn High School” in Vancouver and a member of SSP, approached Ahmed with the idea of starting the crowdfunding campaign and donated $10,000 dollars right away. 

“As an educator, I believe what Ahmed is doing is educating people, and the group is like a virtual classroom. She is the teacher of the community,” says Naz who believes in the “power of sisterhood.”  

It is important for women to support women instead of pulling them down,” said Naz.

Avani Parekh, an Indian American Strategic Manager at Facebook Community Partnership teams, worked closely with Ahmed for a year as a mentor and fell in love with Ahmed’s vision.

“‘Conversations with Kanwal’ tells universal stories. There have been times when I saw myself in the people who were telling their stories. If I didn’t support their work, there was no purpose in telling these stories,” says Parekh who was also inspired to donate to the campaign. “What Ahmed is doing is worthy of investment as there are not many places where we can go and tell the truth.” 

Ahmed, now calls Markham, Ontario home and wishes to broaden her vision again. This time to explore untold stories of oppressed women in Canada. 


This story has been produced under NCM’s mentoring program. Mentor: Joyeeta Ray

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Asfia Yasir writes for New Canadian Media through the mentorship program. A banker by profession, she has a Masters degree in Public Administration from Karachi University and lived and worked in Dubai before she moved to Canada. Yasir continues her passion for writing in her spare time.

1 Comment

  1. Today is the day for AQK – the man who has secured the existence of the Islamic State of Pakistan.Jinnah created Pakistan – but AQK has secured it,forever,and he is the man,whose genius,will execute the telling blow, of the Ghazwa E Hind !

    His name will ring like a sonic boom,when the Pakistani Nukes,do the “rainfall saturation” on the Indians !

    It was the Indians who pilloried and vilified AQK,and tried to have him assassinated – and failed on every attempt.Even the CIA tried to kill AQK and failed !

    Can a man work in NASA,and then go to a LDC,and replicate a Moon Mission ?

    Can a man work in CERN,and replicate it in a LDC ?

    People will say NO CHANCE – but I say MAYBE !

    Can a man work in e Dutch Nuke lab and replicate the entire nuclear supply and value chain (mining,fuel rods,enrichment,warhead design,warhead fabrication,convert the enriched uranium into metallic form,make tritium…), logistics of imports,movement of funds, recruit and train N Scientists …. AND DO ALL THIS,UNDER THE NOSE OF MOSSAD,CIA,IAEA AND RAW – and then,SUCCESSFULLY DETONATE A DEVICE (with only prior simulated trials) ?

    People say “IMPOSSIBLE” ! And I say – That is GENIUS ! dindooohindoo

    Even from the time of Noah to date – no human has ever,replicated such a feat.The Giza is a marvel of human ingenuity,precision, magic and perfection – BUT NOT ABSOLUTE AND DIVINE GENIUS !

    SUCH GENIUS COMES ONLY TO THE BLESSED – AS WITHOUT ALLAH’s BLESSINGS – AQK WOULD HAVE FAILED.People forget that AQK started the centrifuge design with Maraging steel,in the 1st instance.

    The Quran was REVEALED to the Prophet,VIA AN ANGEL (A DIVINE MANIFESTATION) to make the Prophet Believer ! Moses and Abraham needed a voice,or a burning bush – but AQK needed only his brain,and devotion to Islam and his Creator !

    And inspite of the global vilification and calumny,courtesy the RAW,CIA and MOSSAD – he wavered NOT ONCE,in his devotion to Islam and his Islamic Nation – even at his age !

    And this is the model,for all modern Muslims today !

    Surely he is in Jannat !

    Jiye Jiye Pakistan !

    The Tip of the warheads in the “rainfall saturation”,on the Indians,should emboss the name AQK !

    A – Allah Q – Qayamat K – Kashmir

    If the Persians survive as a nation and a race – it will be due to AQK !

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