How Digital Campaigning is Heralding a New Era for the Women's Rights Movement in India
Country Director, Change.org India
'Boys don't suffer child sexual abuse'. That's what an overwhelming majority of Indian society believed in 2017 and many still do today.
Insia Dariwala, a filmmaker from Mumbai had been sexually violated by trusted men when she was just 10 years old. She understands deeply the pain and trauma that survivors feel their whole lives. Boys, in particular, do not open up due to stigma and lack of trust. As Insia spoke to more male survivors, she understood that the psychological impact of abuse on men was one of the reasons behind a vicious cycle of violence against women and children.
That was a turning point in her life. Insia decided to help end the isolation of male survivors through her petition Change.org/EndTheIsolation. And a whopping 125,000 people stood with her. Insia's petition is the reason why male survivors of child sexual abuse are now included in the victim compensation programme of all states in India.
I had the honour of working with Insia on this landmark campaign. She is one of thousands of women in India, including those from historically oppressed minorities, who use our platform for matters close to their hearts.
When I joined Change.org in 2014, I found my purpose in life: to tell people’s stories and leverage technology and media to create real impact. Over the past 8 years, I have seen Change.org become one of the most influential social change platforms in India. Over 4 crore people have signed campaigns that unite people across the country, changing societal mindsets and bringing positive social impact.
These campaigns however are never sprints, they are marathons. Creating change is a slow process and can sometimes take months and even years.
Through this journey, even the tiniest bit of support along the way makes a world of a difference to people who start campaigns. Be it the signature of a stranger, the encouraging comment of a supporter who tweets their petition, or someone from the Change.org team being their emotional anchor as they go through their changemaking journey.
I have seen that women, particularly those from marginalised communities, need more of this support to keep fighting the good fight. As a Muslim woman who heads Change.org in India, I am proud to be part of a global organisation that has created a safe space for women from all backgrounds to raise their voices, feel supported and be heard.
Like Nirmal Chandel, a 56-year-old grassroots activist from Mandi in Himachal Pradesh who started a campaign Change.org/PensionKaHaq. Viewed as helpless’ when she became widowed at 27, she left her home to prove that she was worth much more.
Today at 56, she is the founder of a collective that works towards the empowerment of women.
Nirmal overcame the barriers of language, technology, and also slow internet connection to start her first online campaign on Change.org Hindi. In January 2022, her petition backed by 30,000 people convinced the Government of Himachal Pradesh to increase the pension income limit for single, abandoned and widowed women.
Nirmal ji is one of many women from small towns to use our platform for social change. Given that the platform is also available in Hindi, it reaches more women in different corners of India.
Like Mumbai-based Cassandra Nazareth who started Change.org/SwitchOnElectricityInAarey in 2018. With the support of over 65,000 people, Cassandra got the Government of Maharashtra to provide electricity to the homes of tribals living in the city's green sprawling Aarey forest.
Another fierce changemaker is Masooma Ranalvi. A member of the first cohort of Change.org India's flagship programme She Creates Change, she has been leading the fight to make Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) illegal in India. Masooma's petition Change.org/EndFGMInIndia narrates a hard-hitting, personal account of the ordeal she suffered as a 7 year old. It was signed by over 2 lakh people in the first 72 hours.
Before she spearheaded this campaign, there was very little public awareness about the practice of FGM. Today Masooma is known as a subject matter expert across the world. She has taught me the value of persistence, something every successful social change warrior has in common. I know she will continue fighting till India bans FGM.
As you see, all these women and their campaigns come from a very personal space. In February 2022, when a public uproar followed the ban on hijabs in educational institutions in Karnataka, 15 Muslims women started petitions in favour of revoking the ban. The biggest petition among these was Change.org/MyHijabMyChoice, which was supported by over 330,000 Indians.
While Change.org remains a cause-agnostic platform, we believe in creating a safe space for all voices and do our bit to ensure that the faintest voices are heard. I personally believe that this is what lies at the heart of a successful democracy.
The decade gone by has been filled with learnings. We've had impactful victories and policy-level changes – all driven by people-power. In the coming years, Change.org plans to continue its work of diversifying its user base for more local, inclusive and meaningful campaigning.
The next decade will be about active social listening to stay in tune with the pulse of the common citizen, and enabling more conversations with those in power. We also hope that many more policy makers and lawmakers join us in this journey of creating massive positive social impact.