Every time I hit ‘send’ on an email to thousands of people, asking them to support a campaign on violence against women, I wonder what people on the receiving end will think. Will they discard the message as the hundredth email of the same kind or will they actively read it and believe they can make a difference?
Over the past few years working in the charity sector, I have been involved in lots of discussions around the effectiveness of petitions, the impact of online campaigning and that monster that many people refer to as ‘clicktivism’.
Well, in this blog I’ll try and give you an insider’s perspective on what happens before and after people like me hit the ‘send’ button, and why all of that matters in the fight against violence against women.
Last month, I joined the newly-formed Urgent Action team at ActionAid UK, an international charity that supports women and children in extreme poverty, and fights for lasting change.
We react to incidents of violence against women from all over the world and use public mobilization to push for change. Less than a month into my new role, I’ve had the chance to speak to a number of inspirational women who are at the fore-front of the fight against gender-based violence.
We’ve spoken to Azza Soliman, a women’s rights defender from Egypt who is facing a trial just for witnessing the murder of a woman activist by state police. She asked us to support her fight for justice and she told us that her best chance of freedom is if the UK Government demands that the Egyptian Authorities drop their case against her. And so we did.
Lobbying the government is obviously a valuable element in our campaign, but it’s much more effective when backed by huge public pressure. And that’s when the ‘send’ button comes into play. I’m glad to see that over 20,000 people have taken our campaign seriously enough to join Azza’s fight and the fight of all people who fight for women’s rights. Her trial started on 9 May and we keep people updated with its progress, and keep talking until they listen. And listen they did! Azza Soliman has been acquitted. But it’s not over yet. The victory was short-lived because the Egyptian government appealed the judgement. Azza, along with 16 co-defendants, is back in front of a judge on Saturday 13 June. We’ll keep fighting to secure Azza’s freedom.
But that’s not the end of the story. Our mini-campaigns are part of a bigger picture; we are working to achieve a long lasting change through policy and law enforcement, and by empowering women to speak up for themselves. The immediate ask and the long-term changes are therefore tightly connected, and so is the link with the activists on the ground. This is what makes that ‘send’ button so powerful and what makes an Urgent Action much more than an act of tokenism.
*Oriana Lauria is an Urgent Action Campaigner at ActionAid UK, a leading international charity supporting women and children in extreme poverty and fighting for their rights and lasting change.