What’s the secret to a successful petition?

Article by Beau Donelly  /
Sydney Morning Herald  /
June 11, 2016  /
Click here to view original  /

Men think they can change the world, but women are more likely to do it.

At least that’s one interpretation of new data that looks at the gender of more than one million petition starters and measures it against how successful the campaigns ultimately were.

According to figures from Change.org, men are 38 per cent more likely to start a petition. However, women are 14 per cent more likely to have their petition succeed (a victory occurs when the petition’s nominated decision maker, such as an MP, agrees to the request).

It’s a telling reflection of the presumption of success: it appears men’s expectation of victory is inflated, while women undervalue their chances despite being more influential when it comes to exercising online democracy.

“When technology levels the playing field, women are more powerful than men,” says Karen Skinner, head of Change.org Australia.

Eight out of the 10 biggest petition victories in Australia on the activist website so far this year were started by women. The figures also suggest women have the highest levels of engagement with criminal justice and human rights campaigns.

Alphington teenager Angelina Popovski last month won her petition calling on supermarket giant Aldi to pull caged eggs from its shelves. The 14-year-old started the campaign in March as part of a high school project about factory farming.

“I started getting friends and family to sign it and then Animals Australia shared it and the power of social media took over,” she said.

“I didn’t expect it to happen so fast.”

Ms Popovski believes girls in her age group are more proactive than boys. “The boys have the potential to do something, but they don’t do it yet. When girls find something they feel strongly about, they seem to do something about it.”

Ms Popovski’s petition was signed by 97,000 people and Aldi has now committed to phasing out caged eggs.

Gender and politics expert Lauren Rosewarne said the internet had given women more access to the political sphere, a domain historically dominated by men, and suggested their success stemmed from a strength in creating and maintaining social networks.

“Taking this skill online means that women are able to widely disseminate a petition and take advantage of wide networks of like-minded women,” she said.

Dr Rosewarne, a senior lecturer in social and political sciences at Melbourne University, said it was important to consider why women started petitions when examining their engagement levels more broadly.

“Petitions centre around very targeted issues whereby possible policy change is relatively uncomplicated,” she said. “While there are many issues that disproportionately affect women – such as increasing participation in government and boards – a petition is unlikely to be the appropriate tool to solve the problem.”

In February, the use of medicinal cannabis was decriminalised by the federal government after more than 250,000 people signed a petition started by medicinal marijuana advocate Lucy Haslam.

Ms Haslam and her husband led the campaign for marijuana legalisation after witnessing its benefits in her son Daniel, who died from bowel cancer last year, aged 25.

Ballarat teenager Chloe Scott also had a win last month when Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce wrote to her, outlining the details of a half-billion dollar relief package in response to dramatic milk price cuts.

The dairy farmer’s daughter garnered 156,000 signatures on her petition calling for government action after the two major dairy processors slashed payments to farmers.

Other prominent petitions started by women this year include calls to keep pap smears and pathology services free, and a petition to legally recognise unborn babies beyond 30 weeks gestation as human beings.

The Change.org data ranks Australia, the US and Argentina the top three countries with the highest rate of female petitioners. Turkey and India had the lowest female participation rates.