THE BLOG

Women, The 21st Century Campaigners

17/04/2013 18:31 BST | Updated 17/06/2013 10:12 BST

Two decades after the first female Prime Minister, the House of Commons remains a sea of men in grey suits and PMQs remains an adversarial affair. It's pretty depressing viewing for any woman eager to make an impact. But while men still dominate mainstream politics, outside the walls of Westminster it is a very different story. Women are proving themselves to be formidable modern day campaigners and it is men who have the catching up to do.

On Change.org we see hundreds of petitions started every week. Just over half of these petitions are started by men but of the petitions that engage the most people, that grow and that ultimately go on to win - the majority are started by women.

There is Heather McNaughton-Wilford, a mother from Carluke in Scotland who mobilised over 4,000 people to stop the Scottish government cutting support services for carers. Jayne Linney, who took on ATOS over her right to record her disability assessment and won. And Shanene Thorpe, who got support from 27,000 people to secure an apology from the BBC for its inaccurate portrayal of her on Newsnight.

Research suggests the rise of female campaigners in this digital age is not a coincidence. Women and men use the internet differently. Dare's Digital Britain report says a day in the life of a man on the internet typical consists of a few emails, some research, buying stuff and then maybe popping onto Facebook. Women in contrast spend significantly more time on social networks - 30% more time than men. Our internet use is less about taking information and more about engaging and discussing. We like to talk and while it's not surprising these habits matter. The internet is one of the most important organising tools for modern day activists and the habits of women online makes us natural campaigners.

Lucy Holmes' campaign to get The Sun to stop printing topless pictures on Page 3 is the perfect example. No More Page 3 started as a petition and has grown into a social movement. Lucy has created an inclusive campaign where she talks to supporters on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Tumblr. Lucy encourages rather than directs them to take action -- she has a conversation instead of making speeches. This approach has seen the campaign gain the support of Girlguiding and even reach the ears of the Prime Minister. (He didn't sign, he thinks parents should just turn the page.)

The success of Laura Bates' Everyday Sexism Project - which celebrates its first birthday this week is similar. Laura doesn't wave a placard instead she invites people to speak for themselves and simply listen to others.

It's not just in tackling sexism that female campaigners are thriving. The hub of the bedroom tax fight back is a Facebook group. A scroll through the page shows hundreds of posts by women discussing, supporting and encouraging each other in the fight. Of course men are there too but it is notable the strength of female voices interacting in the forum. One of the main organisers of the group says she her main tool is a little black book that has quickly filled up as she connects campaigners to each other across the country.

This is how female campaigners work - ego is out the door and in its place is an inclusive approach that is about connecting people, sharing experiences and supporting individuals. It is the perfect mix for online organising, were sustaining a campaign relies on people joining the conversation, sharing it with their friends and creating content. It takes brave leadership to step back and let supporters steer but it's this approach that turn petitions into campaigns and campaigns into social movements.

The 21st Century has not yet delivered our next female Prime Minister but the emerging group of women finding their voices online demonstrates there are other ways to change the world. Men stuck in the adversarial halls of Westminster would do well to take note. We may not fill up the chamber yet but we are occupying a much more powerful space online.