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
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…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
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
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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