Several parts of India are seeing sharp increases in coronavirus cases. As of writing, there have been more than 286,000 confirmed cases, according to the country’s Ministry of Health and Welfare and analysts fear that the peak is yet to come. While the government enforced strict precautionary measures such as a nationwide lockdown, citizens have turned to online campaigning to demand better relief and accountability from people in power.
Since the outbreak, India has witnessed a dramatic spike in the number of coronavirus-related petitions started on the Change.org platform with over 2000 petitions (and counting). Interestingly, among these petitions, those started by women turned out to be more successful.
With a dataset of around 200 million users on the Change.org India platform, we found that men have started around 70% of petitions related to the coronavirus. In contrast, about 30% were by women. But when we looked at the number of petitions able to cross the 100-signature benchmark, only 17% started by men were successful, and only a smaller percentage achieved a victory.
On the other hand, petitions started by women turned out to be more successful, with almost 40% reaching the 100-signature benchmark. These women campaigners also achieved twice as much more victories as compared to men.
Women’s participation in starting petitions is lower in India, but current and past data show that they are more likely to have more successful campaigns than men.
This data is consistent with previous research conducted by the Harvard Kennedy School in 2017.
What are women campaigning about in India during the pandemic? And what changes can we (perhaps) expect to see in the coming months?
Below are some of the top-performing campaigns on the platform that gives a glimpse of what issues women in India are advocating against during this coronavirus crisis:
1. Domestic violence
A sudden two-fold spike in the number of domestic violence cases was reported by the National Commission for Women when the lockdown began in India. Meru, an engineering graduate, and advocate for gender equality, started a campaign called #SetuFightAbuse, which asked the government to urgently integrate domestic abuse interventions for women into the country’s national COVID tracking app, Aarogya Setu (A bridge to health).
As of writing, Meru is waiting for the National Commission for Women to endorse her cause. In the meantime, she released a video explaining domestic abuse, and she prepared a storyboard “to speed the process of implementation.” Her petition continues to gather support at more than 28,000 signatures and counting.
2. Economic impact on the marginalized
Among those hardest hit by the lockdown in India are the millions of migrant laborers who hail from rural villages and work in cities across the country. They have had very little to no money to buy food or pay their rent for over two months; this led to a mass exodus across the country. With public transportation by road and rail suspended, they had to walk thousands of kilometers with their children and meager belongings in tow. Many nationals have called this the worst humanitarian crisis in India’s history since 1948.
Two campaigners, Shirin Shabana Khan and Sunita Kumari, started a campaign to address this and asked the government to provide basic needs — transportation, food, and water — to the migrant workers in India. Their petition has since gained more than 220,000 signatures and counting. More importantly, a decision-maker and Member of Parliament, Manish Tewari, responded positively to their campaign in early May:
“Following the Ministry of Home Affairs order dated 29th April, which mandated guidelines for the movement of persons, I am happy to share with you all that Congress-run governments in three states, Chhattisgarh, Punjab, and Rajasthan, are bearing the rail travel expenses of stranded labourers and migrants going home. On Smt. Gandhi’s instructions, Pradesh Congress Committees in all other states will be bearing the rail travel costs of every needy worker and migrant labourer.”
3. Health and safety of vulnerable communities
COVID-19 has badly hit the state of Maharashtra in western India, with a growing number of positive cases in prisons across the state. As per media reports, there are over 100 children lodged with their mothers in the state’s jails. Twenty-six of those are under the age of six.
Petition starter, Manali Joshi, started a campaign to address this issue and to provide refuge for women prisoners, particularly those with children. Her petition asks for separate quarantine wards for women inmates and children along with regular medical check-ups inside prisons. In three weeks, her petition gained nearly 4,000 signatures.
4. Food security
During the lockdown, only flour mills located in urban centers have been operational in India, resulting in starvation in many rural areas in the country. In response to this issue on hunger, Rinki Sharma, a consumer rights activist, campaigned for flour mills to be declared an essential service during the lockdown. This way, more people, especially those residing in rural areas, can buy flour and provide food for their families.
5. Attacks on Doctors and Nurses
Since the outbreak, thousands of health workers in India have faced discrimination, violent physical attacks, and verbal abuse for being exposed to the coronavirus. Dr. Sarika, a frontline health worker, is one of the thousands of doctors who experienced this abuse despite risking her life to attend to patients battling COVID-19. She understood quite well that healthcare workers who risked their lives to save others deserved better, so she started a petition asking the government to declare these attacks on health workers a non-bailable offense.
Her campaign further escalated when she talked about her petition on national and international news channels. In less than a month, the government responded by promulgating the Epidemic Act on the 22nd of April.
“The Central Government under the Epidemic Act made attacking a doctor or health worker a cognizable and non-bailable offense. The real challenge for society is to remove the stigma being associated with this disease and treat patients with empathy and kindness. Tough times seldom last, tough people do,” shares Dr. Sarika.
By Garvita Khybri and Andrea Sy