THE BLOG

The Women You Should Have Heard of Quietly Creating Change in Russia

08/03/2016 17:59 GMT | Updated 09/03/2017 10:12 GMT

If you look on Change.org for women's rights campaigns in Russia, you will probably be disappointed to find only a few. Being the global platform where anyone anywhere can create change they want to see - this tells us something about a very poor situation for the rights of Russian women.

However, does this mean that when it comes to political and societal issues women lose interest? Does this mean that women who are campaigning for better healthcare and education, environment and children's rights are not fighting for their rights as well? We think they are.

On Change.org we see thousands of women quietly breaking stereotypes and using online tools to empower themselves, even when they are not talking about women's rights. Change.org, a global platform for online petitions, is essentially a social network. By signing petitions people connect to each other and coordinate collective actions to resolve issues important to them. And just as on any other social platform in Russia, where women make a larger userbase, among almost 8 million Change.org users there - 57% are women.

But there is also a significant difference: unlike other social networks, people join Change.org specifically because they want to change something.

An excellent example is Olga Petina from Samara, who launched her campaign against discrimination at school, where her daughter was studying.The school was separating lunches of children who come from less wealthy families from kids whose families could pay more. These kids were given different types of food and sat in different corners, which Olga thought was outrageous. After 140,000 people joined her call, the local authorities stopped this humiliating practice.

Or a story of 76 year old Natalia Lysina from Moscow, who after collecting 380 signatures from her friends on social media, convinced the Pushkin Museum to install seating areas for elderly and disabled people to enjoy the gallery more comfortably.

This is how Change.org represents a new and very different quality indicator of how people in Russia use Internet-technology today. And more specifically, it points to a whole new side of how Russian women engage in social networks.

Change.org not only has more women on the site, but they are also more active. In general, women get 1.5 more signatures on their petitions than men.

And particularly in Russia - campaigns launched by women not only tend to win louder, but also more effectively bring systemic change in their communities.

Marina Rifk from Vladivostok did just that, when she started her 107,000-strong petition asking MTS - the largest mobile operator in the country - to start notifying their users about all paid subscriptions they have ever been added to. By doing this she saved millions of Russians from losing their money.

Petitions started by women win more all over the globe. And that's not a coincidence. Looking at many of the stories on the platform, women are better storytellers. They tend to draw a much more engaging picture in their campaigns and they are not afraid of being emotional. These kind of stories often get more attention from the public. Women are also more persistent when it comes to finding solutions to concrete issues. And they are more skilled and active, when it comes to mobilizing their social networks to find support and supporters in bringing their campaigns to victories.

Stories like these are not few. They are everywhere on Change.org in Russia. And their number is increasingly growing. They are an important indicator that more and more women are actively improving life in their communities. And this is a necessary development in our society. Active participation of women in decision-making - is a world's standard, which many stakeholders in government, society and business are trying to achieve around the world.

It not surprising that the success of Change.org is directly attributed by the contribution of women. Today, among over 300 staff that work in the company - 51% are women. And over 40% of women are in leadership.Compare this to Facebook with 23%, or Twitter with 22%, of women-leaders.

Peter Schwartz, a Senior VP of "Salesforce" once said that the reason why IBM turned down Bill Gates' Windows idea initially was precisely because the decision-making was carried out by a group of men. Participation of women, he assumed, could have led to very different results. It's hard to argue with this: the communication of different views, cultures and values undoubtedly brings more effective and strategic decisions. And that's why active participation of women in society, state affairs and business, for example, is essential.

This is something that government and businesses in Russia are yet to realise and women are yet to bring to the table.

So maybe women on Change.org in Russia do not yet run campaigns for women's rights issues as we define them internationally, but they are already doing something amazing: by mobilising themselves to effectively tackle issues important to them they are redefining their role and influence in society. And today we are very excited to celebrate them and their success.