Think of a social networking platform that works in much the same way as Facebook, but that is only for women.
That is XpressHer for you: an online community that is all dedicated to expressing women; one that connects, celebrates, and uplifts women worldwide.
Or, as Almas Shafiuddin, the founder puts it; “A global online community for women from all walks of life to connect and create awareness on women-centric issues, policies, initiatives and to also create economic opportunities.”
“This social networking web app aims to support women’s need to express themselves on subjects specific to them, so as to enable them to uplift each other and start a movement of economic empowerment,” she adds.
On March 8th 2017, on the occasion of the International Women’s Day, XpressHer was launched by Almas, an Indian national.
Almas was part of a six member delegation that was recently in Rwanda to participate in activities to mark the occasion of World Refugee Day, which falls on June 20th.
“Rwanda is a country that is actually very high on women empowerment. I would say it’s a case study for women empowerment. I was very happy to be here because we’ve seen so much happen in the women empowerment space,” she explains the rationale for her recent visit.
Her delegation also included a musician, a doctor, and an educationist, among others. For her part, Almas travelled as a social media entrepreneur.
The group visited under the auspices of the Ministry of Disaster Preparedness and Management (MIDIMAR), and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
“Suhail Zargar (the musician) is a well known singer, songwriter and composer. He has a song, O Mary Jaan which is a campaign about raising the girl child and that is why ExpressHer collaborated with him.
He runs a project called Project Pride which is about musical concerts for specific social causes. The first part of Project Pride is a campaign called Happy Tribe which is about celebrating women as one tribe all across the globe. ExpressHer and Happy Tribe do a lot of musical concerts across the world. The idea is we pick up any women cause in a particular area and we identify NGOs that are doing good work for that cause and we do musical concerts to raise funds.”
Almas describes the song Oh My Rwanda as “really about the spirit of Rwandans and the spirit of women and this is just the beginning of so many things we would like to do here in Rwanda.
We would want to come back and do more work on women related issues through music and entertainment.”
While in Rwanda the group had the opportunity to visit some refugee camps, including Kiziba Refugee Camp in Karongi District that they visited on World Refugee Day.
“If you look at the word express, it means expression of voice, opinion, thought, idea, but express is also a quick movement,” Almas starts.
“The gap I am trying to bridge with this site is of unavailability of a platform to help women with their needs – at different stages of their lives.
In my own journey, I have known women who have lifted me up at various points – that have become turning points – and I see huge potential in us if we support each other as a community. To bring that larger purpose into all our lives, I decided to build XpressHer.com.”
Since its soft launch on Women’s Day in March, the platform has received a whole range of stories from women from across the globe: stories of women who have braved hardships and many odds to pave their way through to success; stories of women juggling work and family, of pregnancy complications to raising children as single mothers; those of surviving abuse, harassment and depression to finding their voice and space in a male-dominated world.
Others are stories of wealth creation and abundance as entrepreneurs, to scaling unprecedented heights in the corporate world, fighting disease and getting fit, to stories of finding true love, or simply finding themselves in the walk of life.
“One of the features on this platform right now is stories. Every woman has a story but it does not reach the world. This platform allows you to upload your story in any format and you don’t even have to be a writer–you can upload text, video, audio, an image –any aspect of your life or any story you would like to share which has uplifted you, and can inspire another woman across the globe,” Almas further explains.
She comes from a corporate training background in learning and development. Her last fulltime role was with Vodafon in India where she was leading learning and development for the country.
“I quit my job and started this because I’ve heard my own story and in my own story I have found that at different points in my life women have really come together to lift me up. And I felt there was a need for one global women community to exist. I think there’s a lot that we can do together if we have women coming together under one single platform.”
With XpressHer she hopes to achieve three things: “Connect women, celebrate women, and uplift women globally.”
To get the project on its feet, she took a three month online entrepreneurship course in India at the end of which she got to pitch her idea to investors.
“We were 114 of us in the country and I ended up in the top three with my idea and that gave me a lot of encouragement. I started connecting with a lot of important people in our country and received a lot of support.”
The Rwanda connection:
On why Rwanda had to be her first international stop for the project she explains:
“I realized that Rwanda is a country that we can really do a lot of women empowerment and there is no looking back. People here are very excited about what I’m doing. I want to capture more and more stories because this country is filled with stories of women that have built themselves up after the genocide, and those stories should really reach the world. Rwandan women’s stories should go onto this platform. It can be so inspiring to someone sitting on their couch in Spain or Australia or Morocco or India –any part of the world.”
Currently the platform is at the story stage, but will diversify into multiple functions in coming months. One of those will be a counseling portal where women can get counseled under a variety of issues. There will be private counselors and NGOs that will provide counseling either free or paid for depending on the type of counseling one wants to choose.
The next part of the forum will be chat rooms with live chats on different issues and there will be live expert sessions on this video chat room.
“Another angle will be online shopping to promote women owned small businesses like jewelry, and salon. It will be an exchange platform where women get to exchange products and services. There will also be an Events portal where people can host a lot of international events related to women,” Almas adds.
One can like the stories, comment on them or share them, just like on Facebook. Stories with the highest number of blings (likes) will be compiled into a book.
“This is my first international trip. Asked Rwanda Women’s Network to send me some articles and I will also publish something on my website about my trip to Rwanda and how much the government is doing and how big a case study this is for women empowerment. There couldn’t have been a better country for me to start my international journey because there is so much happening here with regards to women empowerment,” Almas explained further.
“Think about it; so many people died here during the 1994 genocide and most of them were men. There are widows with children and they’ve built the country up, so this is a case study. 64 percent of the country’s parliament is filled with women –which country has that?
I had a meeting with the UNHCR and they told me women in the refugee camps don’t have internet so what am I going to do? But I promised I would do something because where there’s a will there’s a way. I was talking to the Rwanda Women’s Network about the possibility of doing some Skype sessions for underprivileged women and I’d be happy to do that –if I can share skills over a two hour Skype call or something then it’s fine and I don’t want to get paid for it because the purpose is to help women and I believe that once the purpose is right then the money follows.”