Girls’ voices inspire and inform everything we do. In this article, we hear from Shivangi, a member of Chhaa Jaa’s girls-only Facebook group, Bak Bak Gang, who joined the community during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Shivangi tells us how being a member helped her to connect with and seek advice from other girls in India.

Adolescence can be a difficult time if you’re a girl. Not only can the changes you face be confusing, overwhelming and embarrassing, but they often come wrapped in stigma, biases and stereotypes.

You can go from feeling invisible to feeling like society has already decided who you will be, on your behalf. If this isn’t enough to put you off from exploring and speaking out about the issues that matter to you most, the lack of safe spaces where you feel supported to do so certainly will.

The restrictions and lockdowns throughout the COVID-19 pandemic are only shrinking these spaces further, as well as bringing a new set of challenges for girls’ health, education and livelihoods.

But Bak Bak Gang, Girl Effect’s first, girls-only Facebook community for girls in India, is working to change that.

A place for questions that don’t have a home elsewhere

Shivangi, a college student in India, became a member of Bak Bak Gang in 2020. She found the group when she contracted COVID-19 in the first year of the pandemic. Unable to connect with others, she began to feel isolated and afraid.

Bak Bak Gang Graphic

“I was feeling very lonely at that time…lot of negative thoughts were pouring in my mind and I was wondering what can happen next. Am I going to survive? I was very much frightened.”

She started to think about what she could do to keep herself busy, including exploring the internet.

“I mostly watch web series and motivational series. There was a story which depicted the importance of a single penny which I liked very much. I like this type of videos which teaches us something.”

While she was online, Shivangi also found Bak Bak Gang.

“I thought it must be a girls group and there will be good discussion on it. That is the reason for joining the group.”

The power of an all-girls collective

Run by Chhaa Jaa, our youth brand in India, Bak Bak Gang is a celebration of girlhood. It is a place where girls can explore themes that are seen as taboo and learn useful knowledge that they can take into their lives.

Since its launch in 2019, Bak Bak Gang has grown to a thriving community of over 2,800 members who have shared over 75,000 comments.

Girls answer a series of entry questions to become a member of the gang, and once they’re in, they can join and drive moderated conversations around life, love, sexual health and more, all in a safe, open and non-judgemental space.

Creating a sisterhood

Despite many girls having access to a rich media landscape in India, they do not always find stories, spaces and role models that reflect their lived realities. The internet, which is often not built with girls in mind, can feel especially intimidating, unsafe and unwelcoming.

Bak Bak Gang is designed specifically to counteract the negative experiences and messages girls might face online by empowering them to explore issues together. Its trained moderators set an example of how members can engage with each other through their own interactions with members of the community.

As a member of Bak Bak Gang, Shivangi enjoyed being able to share with and learn from other girls like her, helping her feel less lonely and part of something bigger.

“I saw that there is a unity among the members of the group. They’re ready to help each other. Whenever there is problem, everyone gives their best advice to assist the person. So, there is a huge unit among the members,” says Shivangi.

“In case of any problem to any member, everyone comes together to help like sisters. I like this very much. The problem of anyone is not confined to that person only. Everyone is ready to help even after not knowing anyone personally. This really makes me feel good.”

For girls like Shivangi, Bak Bak Gang is an important source of advice, learning and friendship, all of which help to build their confidence and push the boundaries of what is perceived to be the norm.

As COVID-19 continues to transform the way we spend time together, exploring the potential of digital ways to connect will continue to be more important than ever.