I went along to this session at Mumsnet Blogfest on Saturday hoping that it would inspire me and show me that blogging can change the world: I blog about dyslexia and one of the reasons I do that is because I think that things do need to change and that the more people talk about it and work together to highlight the issues then perhaps, maybe, something might get done. That’s why I think initiatives like dyslexia awareness and information group, Parent Champions, are important and why I supported the British Dyslexia Association’s recent e-petition calling for mandatory special needs training for all teachers. But the big question I wanted answering was should I be doing more?
It turned out to be a very poignant and topical session with the day being declared Malala Day (in honour of the Pakistani teenager who was shot in the head for campaigning about education for girls) and Panel chair, Rosie Charles from Save The Children started by encouraging everyone to sign the online petition for Malala to be nominated for the Noble Peace Prize.
What I took away from this panel discussion (and from the day as a whole) was:
- the fact that blogging in itself can’t change the world, but that together with other social media it is now a key element in raising awareness, gaining support and momentum, mobilising people and promoting change.
- It’s a particularly useful tool for women to have a voice and be heard and is helping to make feminisim and other previously marginalised causes mainstream
- Things are still developing and evolving but there are opportunities to be had
- Women have a variety of diverse voices and want to talk about everything from knitting and sewing, to science, business, politics, feminism and human rights – whether we have children or not
- As a blogger I can be part of a wider debate and a force for change
Here’s my summary of the panel discussion:
The panel consisted of Rosie Charles from Save The Children, Naomi McAuliffe from Amnesty International, Holly Baxter from The Vagenda, Lynn Schreiber from Salt and Caramel, feminist writer, Natasha Walter, and MP Stella Creasey.
Naomi said that blogging was a key tool for the activists and prisoners that Amnesty helps and supports. She said that blogging definitely has it’s place and that it is hitting a nerve with certain regimes.
Blogging is important in the fight for human rights: It gets information out that people may not generally have access to, however it’s not the full story, because in places like Syria, only 20% of the people have internet access. However, it’s certainly something that repressive governments feel is a threat and that they’re clamping down on – in Syria, 2 female bloggers have been convicted of spying simply because they’ve been blogging about what’s happening in their country. Revolution happens because people are out on the streets but blogging gets the message out to a wider and worldwide audience and particularly to women who might not be allowed out and to join in and for whom it might be too dangerous. The problem is though that having access to this information makes us feel like we’re involved, but actually we’re just witnesses and can’t be involved – it doesn’t actually make any difference if we change our avatar to show our support for a particular cause.
Blogging is very accessible and can be the only way to get your voice heard when there’s no freedom of expression, but it is more powerful if it’s combined with other activism as well. A blog itself doesn’t change the world but it can play a part.
Holly explained how Vagenda, which works to expose negative and cynical content in women’s magazines, took off in just a week (and gained 60,000 followers in just 24 hours!), and that the power of social media has allowed them to take on and challenge the mainstream media in a way that they wouldn’t normally.
They only launched their site when they had 20 articles ready and were confident about their theme, niche and remit. They also made sure that the site had minimum clickability (i.e. you click on an image and get straight to the article) and maximum shareability (i.e. a third of their content is images which can be easily shared). They then used social media like Twitter and Tumblr to specifically target teenage girls. From there everything grew quite organically (even without social media at first). Her tip for success is to get your content right and know the right social media for your demographic.
Lynn has helped Mumsnet with awareness campaigns or miscarriage and rape awareness and says that blogging gives people a voice who haven’t had one before and that it can be very powerful.
For Lynn blogging is about raising awareness: She blogged about reproductive rights in Kenya where women walk for 2-3 hours to clinics for reproductive implants only to get there and find that they’ve run out. By blogging she could let people know about the need to help women take control of their reproductive health and in turn make decisions about life and families and give them choices about education and work and play a part in lifting them out of poverty. She wanted to highlight the fact that this is something that isn’t an issue for us and that we take for granted – we just make a decision and that’s that, however, many of these women particularly want an implant so that they hide the fact that they’re using contraception from their husbands.
By blogging about these issues and raising awareness pressure can then be put on governments around the world to get involved and do something about it and in this case there was a summit where various governments pledged money to help. Blogging didn’t bring about the change, but it helped put it on the agenda when decisions being made. It can be used both to help lift whole counties out of poverty and hold people to account for their actions.
In particular, women writing for women about women is very powerful.
Natasha said that she was a very late adopter of social media and that she had been very sceptical about the internet and women’s rights. She said that she had initially found it to be a hostile environment, but that had changed over the last couple of years (since the publication of her book, Living Dolls) and that she felt that feminist debate was now mainstream and no longer marginalised. She was particularly inspired by how young women were making feminism concrete and real and how bigger brands and sites like Mumsnet were bringing the debate to the majority. In particular, she works with a charity for refugee women and felt that blogging was vital in helping them make sure that the voices of marginalised women were heard because the mainstream media weren’t necessarily interested in those stories.
She said that if we look at history of feminism, it has always worked on different levels, from the local to the political, and that it’s a process that has to take place in all of society. We need people to join in the conversation and collaborate and make it more powerful so that the media and politicians will start to take notice. We all have a part to play in that process and blogging and social media can help us do that.
Stella said that she didn’t blog, but did use other social media in her campaign work. She said that it allows her to connect and interact with people but that she felt that we should still be doing that in the real world as well. She agrees that social media is helping to rebalance power, make sure that people are heard and provides a challenge and accountability for authority, but got annoyed when people said that the Arab Spring was created on Twitter: she sees it as a tool that can mobilise people to great effect, but that it was what they were writing that was powerful, not how.
She talked about a particular case in her constituency of Walthamstowe where there’s a doctor who refuses to offer any sort of contraception. Traditionally as an MP, people would come to her and complain and then she would talk to the health care trust and pass on their complaints, however, their response is that people can travel to another area to get contraception. So instead, she’s working with group of women to start a campaign and a conversation about health care issues as a whole, which includes this as problem as one element, but covers a whole range of needs and women. She sees what she does and how she uses social media as being about getting people engaged in the process, working together, and contributing to changing lives rather than government.
- Smaller campaigns need to collaborate with bigger platforms like Mumsnet or bigger name charities to get themselves heard
- The traditional media is now on the back foot and is looking for new audiences and so there are opportunities to get stories covered if you have a good hook and a particular angle – for example, editors will be more receptive to a story about new technology rather than a campaign by a ‘mummy blogger’.
- Make use of big stories and trends like women in sport and disability sport from this year’s Olympics to get your story heard
- Raising awareness in itself doesn’t necessarily make things happen – you need to choose your battles and think strategically and make sure you put your spin on everything you’re doing
- Be clear about what you’re asking for rather than just complaining – it’s easier for someone to take on a cause and make something happen if you have a clear proposal and people can understand how you want to make a difference, what the story is and what change needs to be made.
- The mainstream media still has a role to play, particularly where there are legal implications to a story and where people need to be anonymous. Make use of their investigative skills
Campaigns to Follow
- http://www.onebillionrising.org – campaign against violence towards women
- No More Page 3 – https://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/dominic-mohan-take-the-bare-boobs-out-of-the-sun-nomorepage3
- Nominate Malala for a Nobel Peace Prize – http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/uk-party-leaders-and-foreign-secretary-nominate-malala-for-the-nobel-peace-prize-nobel4malala-2