‘Girl Power’: Successful Female-Led Campaigns


Wessex Scene highlights some of the latest successful female-led campaigns in the UK, following in the footsteps of the women immortalised in the movie Made in Dagenham, who went on strike for more equitable pay in 1968.

  • ‘Jane Austen on the £10 banknote’

When the Bank of England announced plans to replace prison reform advocate Elizabeth Fry with Winston Churchill on the £5 banknote in May 2013, equality campaigners were less than impressed at the prospect of the only woman represented on a banknote being the Queen. Legal action was threatened and over 35,000 people signed a petition protesting against Fry’s removal.

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Lead campaigner for the inclusion of at least one historical female figure on a British banknote was feminist activist and journalist Caroline Criado Perez. While her personal campaigning efforts led to appalling social media abuse and threats, they also helped prompt the Bank of England to announce Jane Austen’s inclusion on the £10 banknote and review their selection criteria.

The founder of Women’s Room, an organisation which challenges the representation of women in the media, Criado Perez received civil liberties pressure group, Liberty’s 2013 human rights campaigner of the year award, and was awarded an OBE in the 2015 New Year’s Honours List for ‘services to Equality and Diversity, particularly in the Media’. In 2017, she also successfully led the campaign to place for the first time a female statue in Parliament Square, honouring suffragist Millicent Fawcett.

  • ‘Stella Creasy, MP, and Northern Ireland women gaining access to free abortions on the NHS in Britain’

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Northern Ireland’s abortion laws are some of the strictest in Europe, only allowing abortion in circumstances where there is a danger to life. Consequently, many women travel elsewhere in the UK to obtain an abortion. Until last year, however, they were barred from access to free abortions on the NHS and had to pay, usually costing about £900 a termination. Step forward Stella Creasy, MP for Walthamstow, who introduced in June 2017 an amendment in Parliament to allow Northern Irish women access to free abortions on the NHS in Britain.

With the opposition benches and prominent Conservative backbenchers like Nicky Morgan expressing support, Creasy successfully compelled the government to concede on the issue. Responding to the government’s change of heart in the Commons, Creasy was delighted, adding:

Let us send a message to women everywhere that in this parliament their voices will be heard and their rights upheld.

  • ‘Plain cigarette packaging’

Successful female-led campaigns haven’t all been related to issues of women’s rights or gender equality. The implementation in 2017 of standardised, green packaging for cigarettes with graphic warnings of possible side-effects from smoking resulted from sustained campaigning by the pressure group ASH (Action on Smoking and Health), led by Chief Executive Deborah Arnott and Director of Policy Hazel Cheeseman.

Cheeseman has utilised her background in health and housing policy to manage ASH’s policy campaigns, while Arnott is an international expert on tobacco control, an associate professor at Nottingham University, and was awarded the Alwyn Smith prize by the Faculty of Public Health in 2007.  Arnott has been Chief Executive of ASH since 2003, also prominent in the campaign to ban smoking in public places across the UK in 2006-07 and a much-maligned figure by the pro-smoking lobby.

  • ‘This Girl Can campaign’

One of the most successful female empowerment campaigns in the UK in recent years has been ‘This Girl Can’, funded by the National Lottery and run by Sport England. The campaign was created in response to a survey conducted by Sport England in 2014 which found that 2 million fewer women participated in sports than men despite 75% of women saying they would like to do more.

The campaign has encouraged increased levels of female participation in sport and challenged the lack of self-confidence some women have about their ability to participate. While ‘This Girl Can’ has led through advertisement videos which have been highly successful in engaging women, it’s also increasingly sought to develop a community, sharing experiences on social media of sports participation.

Prominent in promoting the ‘This Girl Can’ brand have been CEO of Sport England, Jennie Price, and Kate Dale, campaign manager and Head of Brand and Digital Strategy for Sport England. Price worked in the environmental sector before joining Sport England in 2007, but has fully embraced the campaign to close the gender gap in participation rates, sharing her own personal experience of being stigmatised for exercising by a man ahead of MoonWalk, a night-time charity marathon.

Already, the campaign which launched in 2015 has been successful in changing women’s attitudes about sports participation – an estimated 2.8 million women have become more active since seeing the campaign, while 250,000 more women are getting active once a week, every week since the campaign’s launch.

  • ‘Crowdfunding – women are more successful than men’

Finally, it’s worth reflecting on research in 2017 which concluded that globally, women were 32% more successful than men in reaching crowdfunding targets and in the UK 29% more successful. This may be partly because men tend to seek higher-funding targets, but the average each individual backer provides also favours women.

Crowdfunding has offered female entrepreneurs a new, more accessible market to raise investment from and as such, helps level the business playing-field. However, next perhaps in successful female-led campaigning is for women to break increasingly into the $1 million+ funding targets, with 85% of UK campaigns raising more than $1 million male-led.


Editor 2018-19 | International Editor 2017/18. Final year Modern History and Politics student from Bedford. Drinks far too much tea for his own good.

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