August 19, 2019

Being An Activist Has Never Been Harder As A Woman – Or More Important
You know it and I know it, so we won’t dwell on it. But it’s 2019 and politics, the media and FTSE 100 are still pale, male and stale. We’re all suffering the consequences of this identikit power elite – Brexit’s still in deadlock after years and there’s yet another General Election looming. But running parallel to this failure of traditional politics, is a different story of making change happen. With women only making up a third of MPs and more Johns in the FTSE 100 than women, we’ve had to get creative at hacking the system. And it’s starting online. Give women the tools to make change happen and we win. When we take matters into our own hands, we’re more powerful than ever.For all its flaws, the internet offers women a way to harness our power in a way we’ve never had before: more access to information about the state of the world around us; the power to organise and mobilise; the power to collect voices that together are stronger than the sum of their parts. It’s the kind of power that can tip the scales in favour of what people want.I’m lucky to spend everyday working with women – often young women – who are seizing that power. Take Amika George, who started her #FreePeriods campaign aged 17 after learning that girls were skipping school because of period poverty. She went from reading an article to running a 200,000-strong petition in just a few days.The online buzz from the campaign attracted national media and celebrity attention, and allowed her to connect with thousands of other girls who joined her protest in Westminster. It caught the eye of brands like Always, who launched campaigns to tackle the crisis. She kept campaigning tirelessly until in March this year the Government announced they’ll put free period products in all schools and colleges across England.But like all shifts in power, it’s not without its challenges. Most female campaigners I work with have been trolled online for simply caring about something enough to take action on it.Trolling needs to be taken more seriously, just as if it was abuse being hurled at us in the street. It needs to be easier to report, and social media channels and the police have to do better in taking it seriously. Because what underlines trolling is still the status quo belief that power should be held by the same people in the same circles. And that’s dangerous if it’s not challenged every single time.This doesn’t make it any easier or excuse it, but here’s the reason the trolls are so angry: women are winning. Young women like Bella and Amika are disrupting the status quo; hacking the system to make it work for them. The data backs this up. At Change.org we’ve just analysed 46,000 petitions and found that although men start more campaigns, women win more.Winning campaigns requires persistence – you have to work out how to make change happen when traditional routes have failed you. And women are nothing if not fiercely persistent. Those pale, male and stale political elites could take a leaf out of what is making these women successful: persistence, vulnerability but most importantly working together.Yvonne’s a perfect example of this. Her boyfriend (now husband) Billy was wrongly arrested and jailed in India for four years. The Foreign Office stopped returning her calls and replying to her emails so she started a public campaign out of desperation. Her petition quickly gathered 400,000 signatures, and as the years passed by, people continued to sign her petition, write to MPs and spread the word across social media. They gave her hope when all hope seemed lost. Over time the campaign made front-page news and senior politicians wanted to meet with her. After four years, finally Theresa May spoke out and shortly after they were set free.Successful campaigns also rely on good storytelling to win over hearts and minds. For many women, especially women of colour, we’re told to keep our stories of injustice quiet. We’re also told from an early age that being vulnerable is being weak. But none of this is true. Telling your personal story in your own words, especially when it involves an injustice, can make you powerful and is what makes women naturally talented campaigners.But if you’re going to lean into your vulnerability as a strength, you also need a good network around you. When you’re the target of trolling, or just feeling drained from the intensity of talking about your story to everyone, it’s essential to have a support network around you. The women I’ve worked with have been brilliant at identifying this, using their friends and family not just to spread the word of the campaign (on and offline) but to lean on for support when it gets tough. We know that winning is a team effort.Those pale, male and stale political elites I was talking about? They could take a leaf out of what is making these women successful: persistence, vulnerability but most importantly working together. I don’t think anyone would describe Westminster’s approach to Brexit in these terms.Give women the tools to make change happen and we win. When we take matters into our own hands, we’re more powerful than ever.Kajal Odedra is executive director of Change.org and author of Do Something: Activism for everyone. Related... 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