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How Women Are Enabling More Women To Be Bold & Successful Change-Makers

Posted: March 2, 2020

When we see women speaking for social change, and learn how they do it successfully, it helps us make an impact too!

Are you interested in social change, whether it’s a local issue like street lighting in your locality, or a nation-wide problem like how easily acid is available across India, and used to attack women?

Chances are you have come across the Change.org platform that encourages ordinary citizens to become change-makers on social issues of interest to them.

However, like all digital activity, change-making too is not entirely free from a gender gap. Yes, it turns out that women still form a smaller percentage of those who start petitions on the site, including on issues of particular importance to us.

I spoke to Durga Nandini, Senior Director – Communication & Partnerships at Change.org, to understand how women are inspiring and supporting each other, to become successful change-makers.

With the theme for International Women’s Day in 2020 being #EachForEqual, it’s a great time to talk about this community of women change-makers enabling each other to be equal as change-makers.  

So, you identified that many of the petitions at change.org around women’s issues, were actually initiated by men. What were the issues with this?

A few years back, when we started looking at our own user data, we realised that women started much fewer campaigns than men, but one thing that stood out is that when women started campaigns, they were more likely to win those campaigns when compared to men.

We realised that one, women were more committed, and two, they knew exactly how to come up with emotional versions of what they were going through or what they were seeing, and thirdly, in terms of asking more people to support them,  they seemed to know how to build a support base.

The major deterrent, which emerged when we asked women what was stopping them from starting social change campaigns, is that women felt alone, especially when they came into the online spaces.

That’s how we created a program called She Creates Change, which is basically an initiative to build a community of women. Through this community building initiative we are also looking at how to increase the capacity of women or build skill for social change campaiging.

So these women need not be activists?

Most of them are just regular citizens but strongly driven by this passion to create change. The one major thing we ensure is that there are enough opportunities for them to bond so that the sense of community is built – it’s also tough because they come from different parts of the country, languages and cultures are different, backgrounds are different, even privileges are different. Alongside that, we also give them skill building sessions on how to run campaigns, both digitally and otherwise.

It’s a one year program that begins with six days at a learning lab in Bangalore, and it’s amazing to see that we have finished five cohorts of the She Creates Change program which means that we have 150 women now as a community. Some have had small victories, some have been able to create major changes in terms of policy or behaviour; but what is really endearing is how they support each other, whether it is jumping in with strategy or actual on-ground implementation support.

The issues they work with can be gender based, or child rights issues, infrastructure issues, issues about public toilets, in fact just about anything.

On the one hand, women’s issues do need to be everybody’s issues, but on the other hand, do you see any drawbacks such as lack of understanding when petitions around women’s issues or say transgender rights are created by men?

Men should definitely talk about gender and women related issues, I personally believe that. It also means that men are considering the other side, that the other lens is definitely coming in. So, it is welcome that men want to campaign for issues that women face, but the gap was in not enough women speaking up for themselves, and that is what we wanted to bridge.

I think the way to find a good balance is to get more and more women to speak up for themselves, and therefore get a fresh perspective from a woman in terms of what she is actually going through, and definitely a very strong personal story, because that does really well.

The fact that she is bringing her own experience to bear on the petition, do you find that impacts the campaign performance significantly?

Yes! I’ll give you an example, there is this mother in Mumbai, her name is Almaz, she has a seven year old son, and he is a crazy fan of Chhota Bheem. She started watching it with him and saw that the portrayal of the the boy, the protagonist as a hero, and the girl who hangs out with him, Chutki is very different – she is portrayed as someone who constantly waits for him, or waits on him.

With laddoos…

With laddoos…exactly! That’s the point that troubled her, that this is a strong gender stereotype that my son is growing up with; and I should do something to address this because many other mothers must also be facing the same.

So she started a campaign addressed to the makers of Chhota Bheem saying, Make Chutki Stronger. It became a huge campaign, and the producers actually responded in a week or so, that it’s a valid point, and we realise a lot of people support your opinion, we will create a separate series for Chutki.

This happened very recently, only last year, but they are working on a spin-off series. This may be a small thing in the larger scheme of issues that women face, but its definitely something that one woman felt very strongly about, and if you look at behaviour change among young boys and men, this is one step, in the way of pop culture fighting those gender stereotypes.

Do you see a ripple effect of there being more women change-makers on the platform?

Women who have never started a campaign before, now go on to start second or even third campaigns, based on the victory of one campaign. Another major thing we have been able to do, is to help them structure their thoughts around what is achievable. For e.g. its one thing to say, “Bangalore needs to be traffic-jam free” but you need to make it campaignable and achievable. That in turn is leading to these interesting victory stories, and through that, we see more and more women are encouraged to say, main bhi kar sakti hoon! (I can do it!)

Before we end this interview, a final question. The Women’s Web community consists of many women who are very socially engaged and interested in gender, their neighbourhoods, their communities. If you had to leave them with two things that go into the making of a successful campaign, what would those be?

One is, never give up – we realise that when you have too many pulls and pushes in your day to day life, it’s easy to get drawn into the more urgent, than really what you want to do. That’s something we constantly tell our change-makers, because they do get dejected. The journey through change-making can be disappointing and frustrating, and the victories and milestones you will reach are so few and far apart.

The second thing is, latch on to as many support systems as possible, because that’s how your tribe will increase. We started off as the She Creates Change program but we now realise that each of these women are going out and either getting into other support systems, or even creating their own versions of the program in their own states. There are even women going to villages and trying to create a program by getting the sarpanches and others involved.

The one way you can fight the feeling of being alone is creating those support systems, and most importantly, contributing to them!

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