Humans’ lives before and after the creation of social media are not comparable because social media, as a modern invention, changed the ways we communicate, incredibly. Societies, politics, social interactions, economies and other aspects of human life changed after social media conquered the world. Specifically, Facebook became a platform for people around the world not only to communicate but also to share their daily thoughts and points of view on almost anything.
In Afghanistan, however, Facebook was a trend for women and girls as they discovered their own existence in Afghan society.
After the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan and the fall of the Taliban in 2001, women were exposed to a new definition of life, a gradual change. This change could range from access to education and jobs and having some of their fundamental rights to their role in creating the new democratic government for being part of the society and having the opportunity of civic engagement. Afghanistan was a war-afflicted country.
The capital of Kabul, which had been destroyed over the years, was being rebuilt in the 2000s when Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook. Afghans were being introduced to electricity, healthcare, an education system and, most importantly, the internet. As the internet was expanding its hands all over the country, women were also impacted by it – specifically by Facebook.
In the case of women, Facebook was a room for their appearance in society and a vase for their growth. In the beginning, it was not common for a woman or a girl to have an account on Facebook. Users from Afghanistan were largely men. One of the reasons was that the old radical Afghan tradition relying on those interpretations of religion that limited women did not consider it as normal and acceptable. Hence, women became Facebook users after men did.
Interestingly, it was not common and normal that someone posts a picture of a woman on Facebook,: their mother, sister, wife or daughter. It obviously changed over the years as the civil society in Afghanistan took the lead and promoted women’s civic engagement and basically women’s appearance in society. Slowly, women started to use Facebook as a way to communicate basically with their family, relatives, and friends and to see what happened elsewhere. But they did not have their own pictures as profiles or sometimes their real names on Facebook. Societal norms’ pressure could count as a reason. Eventually, women appeared on Facebook with their real names and pictures. In regard to Afghanistan, this counts as a revolution after decades of women’s suppression and absence.
Moreover, Facebook became crucial in civic activism and efforts to practice democracy in a country where political opposition would have been silenced, exiled, imprisoned or executed in the past. Several large protests took place in Afghanistan in which women’s voices and pictures were obviously visible. The Tabassum Movement, one of the largest demonstrations in the history of Afghanistan, is an example of how Facebook became a room for women to speak up parallel with the ongoing protest in 2015, meaning that Facebook itself changed to a screen for women to appear on and write, sing, laugh, cry, empathize, learn and most significantly, disagree. Facebook as a taboo changed to a tool for women to stand against what they did not want.
Today, more than a decade after Facebook saw its first women users from Afghanistan, millions use it regularly as a way of communication. Based on the current rules set by the Taliban in Afghanistan, women do not have access to secondary and higher education. Their rights to work, appear on television, travel on their own and many more have been taken from them. Facebook is one of the few platforms for Afghan women to stay in touch with the world and at least appear as their presence in society was suddenly denied, and they were subjected to house arrest.