Originally posted on the BBC Media Action blog by Bidhya Chapagain on December 22 2016 2016 - Hundreds of thousands of people across the world joined our first two Facebook Lives from Nepal, grabbing the opportunity to question an inspiring group of female personalities and politicians.

Usually when I present the political debate show, Sajha Sawal (Common Questions), a sea of faces look back from a packed studio floor, ready to ask tough questions of a panel of public figures and politicians.

This time, the studio was almost empty. Audience members in their tens of thousands were instead joining the debate on Facebook Live – while catching a lift to work, on their lunch break or relaxing at home.

The debates, which featured Deepa Shree Niraula, a much loved actress and director, and two prominent female politicians, Shanta Chaudhary and Renu Chand, aimed to inspire more women to engage in politics and social issues as part of the BBC 100 Women season.

I never thought I’d check Facebook so much during a live broadcast, yet in this case, the urge was irresistible. Hundreds of comments, thumbs-up and smiley emoji faces were popping up on the screen in front of me.

The debates were watched a total of 225,000 times, with the audience submitting over 1,000 questions – covering everything from party politics and domestic violence to career advice. For the first time, fans of our 1.7m-strong Facebook page living in places as far apart as Dubai, Malaysia, South Korea, the UK, US and Canada were able to participate live in the debate.

It provided a deeply personal glimpse into the lives of the panellists too.

Shanta Chaudhary was just eight years old when her parents sold her into bonded labour, forcing her to scrub, cook and sweep for 19 hours a day in a stranger’s home. Determined to protect others from the same experience, Shanta became an activist and joined parliament in 2008 to become one of Nepal’s most influential politicians.

Shanta told the audience that on entering parliament, she checked her first pay check again and again. It was the first time she’d been able to fully afford to feed and clothe her children. She went on to describe how hurt she felt when people called her “the illiterate politician” mocking her inability to read and write. In defiance of their jibes, she returned to ‘school’ and has now written an autobiography about her journey from slavery to politics.

Watch Shanta Chaudhary and Renu Chand on Facebook Live

There was laughter too. When one Facebook user asked Deepa Shree Niraula about her educational qualifications, the actress said that although she hadn’t yet gone to university, she was studying for a “bachelor’s degree in life”.

Watch Deepa Shree Niraula on Facebook Live

The response to our first ever online broadcasts was incredible. The informality of the platform really helped the panellists to relax and speak their mind.

Best of all it allowed Sajha Sawal to reach a broader audience. We were truly able to go global – engaging with Nepalese people working abroad with limited access to Nepali TV and radio.

The Facebook Live’s were produced to coincide with the BBC’s 100 Women season.

Click here to access this BBC Media Action blog and related links on their work in Nepal.

Image credit: BBC Media Action, Caption: Bidhya Chapagain presents a Sajha Sawal 'Facebook Live' featuring politicians, Shanta Chaudhary and Renu Chand

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