What could a 13,000-strong, all-women virtual group be talking about all day? Husbands and children and of course, recipes, many presume. Well, nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, these are some of the least discussed topics on Her Trivandrum (HT), says its sole admin, Anjali Manoj. Instead, they discuss everything about being a woman in the 21st century – friendship, travel, women empowerment, entrepreneurship, mental health and more. And there would have been some heated debates on politics as well, if not for the strict admin rule.
The group which began as an informal one of friends from Trivandrum has now crossed the district, State and country borders to include women from around the world, from ages 18 to 84, who have become mentors, therapists, friends and cheerleaders to each other. “Frankly, the number I had in mind was around 100,” says Anjali, recalling how she formed the group. “I was part of a handful of Facebook groups, and once I asked for a cupcake icing recipe in a few of them. In the next few hours, I received a flood of inbox messages from creeps, but not a single icing recipe. That was when I decided to form a group with only women. Only those I knew personally, from Trivandrum, where they could ask anything.” Which is why she named it Her Trivandrum. The numbers slowly grew as each member started adding their family and friends, but the name remained, as Facebook does not allow a group’s name to be changed once it reaches a certain number of members.
“Initially I used to write posts every day to keep it going,” says Anjali, who has a degree in TV journalism and teaches public speaking, among other subjects. “A year into the group, I realised that there are a lot of talented women who have never had a platform to exhibit their skills. So, I asked some of the good writers to write something every week. Soon other writers started pitching in as well. They have been the group’s biggest strength,” she says. Indeed, some of the Her Trivandrum writers could give published authors a run for their money, with their hilarious and at times poignant real-life anecdotes. There are specific days for videos, advertisements, photography etc now all of which is an explosion of talent. On most days there would be queries by members or anonymous posts on some pertinent subject, which spark off enlightening discussions.
Which is another speciality of the group — the non-judgemental manner in which different kinds of life choices and situations are dealt with, with mental health being one of the most discussed issues. There have been women who reveal that they realised too late into marriage that a married life and kids are not their cup of tea, women who wish to leave a loveless/sexless marriage and more. All are shown empathy and support, a refreshing change from the comments section of news websites which are filled with judgemental comments and abuse. There are also countless instances of anonymous queries from women stuck in an abusive relationship or a marriage, which are flooded with resources from members in the form of helpful advice, contacts of lawyers, therapists, child counsellors and more. “Quite a few lives have changed because of these queries. I follow up on all anonymous posts and many of them have walked out of toxic situations, or made major life changes, as a result of their posts in the group,” says Anjali. “I’d say it’s an intellectual group with intellectual discussions. On everything and anything. There is also a nice symbiotic relationship since youngsters and older women participate equally, getting to know each other’s perspectives and learning from them.”
While there are numerous groups on Facebook as well as on Whatsapp, what sets HT apart would be its lack of cliques and arguments as well. “I’m the sole admin of the group, and every day I get some 75-100 posts, from which I approve 50. I monitor every post and comment, and the general rule is that everyone can put forward their opinions but not argue. It has worked out so far,” says Anjali. “That said, I get a lot of flak every day bordering on abuse for not approving someone’s post which violates the rules, but I get appreciation as well so it balances out.”
And how does she find the time for this? “Well, it’s indeed a full-time job for me since there are members who post from different time zones. But I do it alongside my online classes. I find a lot of happiness in this. My family doesn’t mind as long as it makes me happy,” she says, adding that if it gets overwhelming at any point, she would limit new members.
Her Trivandrum has a few offshoots as well now. For instance, members in the UK have formed their own Whatsapp group through which they meet up and go on trips. Travel descriptions and photos are also some of the most popular in the group, and members have told Anjali that they travelled virtually through places they would never visit otherwise, she says. “During the lockdown, HT has been a great stressbuster, many members have told me. I decided to keep out Covid posts for a reason, I wanted this to be a distraction, not add to the Covid chaos.”
So doesn’t the success of the group point to the fact that all women need support and friendship, regardless of their age or marital status? “Absolutely,” says Anjali. “Also, as someone mentioned to me once, when you speak of women’s empowerment you immediately think of women from a lower economic background, someone who is underprivileged in some way. But all women need empowerment, and that includes the educated and the affluent too. They too could be stuck in situations where they need it but don’t have access to it.”
HT members in Trivandrum had a get-together in 2019, and she hopes to conduct more meet-ups after Covid, says Anjali. “I don’t know where the meet-ups can be held since there are more members outside Trivandrum now but we will work something out soon.”