Telling stories, making space

Nabeela Yaseen created a platform for women and girls to feel safe, seen, and supported. She never expected just how many of them would need it.

Telling stories, making space

Nabeela Yaseen created a platform for women and girls to feel safe, seen, and supported. She never expected just how many of them would need it.

It was 1.30 AM when Nabeela Yaseen set up the Not Your Nangi Instagram page, and she had spent most of her night on Canva. Earlier in the day, she’d seen someone post on social media about being harassed, and later that night, she had a flash of inspiration. “It was actually the most random thing, dude,” she tells me about her decision to establish a platform on which women could share their experiences with harassment. “It made me think about how I didn’t even know the spectrum of harassment, because there is no spectrum, it happens in so many different ways.”

 

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That night, she made the page’s first logo. “I sent messages out to people who were Instagram famous before I went to sleep — I had no proper posts up, just 3 pictures with the logo in the middle,” she laughs. She woke up the next day to a shout out from prominent local entrepreneur with a large online following, and then, she says, “people just went at it”. When I ask her why she thinks the page gained such a large following in such a short period of time, she credits it’s collective nature—“The thing is, it’s not me. Not Your Nangi is a representation of all of us.” The initial reaction to the page was surprisingly warm, says Nabeela, “People were just showing so much support, and to this day, it’s just so positive, you know?” She zones out for a little bit here. “Sorry,” she smiles, “I’m just thinking about it.”

In addition to Not Your Nangi, Nabeela runs Stoned, a jewellery company, neither of which are careers she imagined for herself. She initially did a Bachelor’s degree in Management with Law—“I just did it to not do maths and economics!”— even though her eventual plan was to be a journalist. She worked part-time at YAMU and wrote freelance for The Daily Mirror while at university, and Not Your Nangi is a continuation of that passion. After graduating, she started working at a marketing firm. “And then—this is the weirdest reason to leave your job—but I left because I was going to get married, and I just knew I’d miss my mum a lot, because we’re so attached,” she laughs. So she joined her mother’s business, a clothing boutique specialising in Indian-wear and tailoring, where she started Stoned with her husband, who’s in the gem trade. Some of the pieces are designed by her, others are pre-designed—“It’s like essential, everyday jewellery”. As for Not Your Nangi, Nabeela states, “I really want to make it stable, like an organisation of sorts, somewhere people can work, instead of a volunteer program.”

Soon after its creation in April 2018, Nabeela was receiving up to 10 stories a day on the account. “They wanted their stories out, people wanted to be heard and even if it’s a heavy story, if you share it, it can stop feeling so heavy,” she says. Having to read these stories at such a high volume, Nabeela admits, takes a toll. “But, I think the key is to come to terms with the fact that harassment happens,” she explains. “And the more privileged you are—the safer your workplace, and the modes of transport you use—the more latent it is. I’m just trying to read these stories constantly, and to remind myself that it happens.”

Since Instagram took the page down in January last year after Nabeela shared a screenshot of an offensive message she’d received, she’s had to start again from scratch. “That has created a fear,” she discloses, but she is rebuilding and on a larger scale than before. She’s in the process of putting a small team together, and structuring the organisation in a way that will allow it to offer counselling and knowledge-based resources. “It’s impossible to reach the whole world,” she says. “But I really believe in the ripple effect. As long as you’ve done something, and that content reaches people, it won’t make the world the best, but it might make it a little easier.”

Photography by Amitha Thennakoon. Art & Direction by Ricky De Silva. Videography by StoryWorks.