Arise, awake… and care for the girl child!

11 Oct,2012


By Fatema Rajkotwala


Jaldi 5 with Dr A L Sharada: More ads must say: Yes, she can

Population First has been at the forefront of the initiative on the way the girl child has been projected in the media. Dr A L Sharada, Director, Population First, spoke to MxMIndia on the girl child and the media and how we can prevent the celebration of the International Day of the Girl Child from being mere tokenism.


01.  It’s good to see that the first ever International Day of the Girl Child is being celebrated. How do we prevent it from being mere tokenism?

I welcome the UN, as a global body declaring October11, as the International Day of the Girl Child. This gives us an opportunity to take stock of the work that we have done so far, look further into what needs to be done and how we could take the issue at hand, forward. However the fear that it may turn out to be yet another gesture of tokenism is a valid one. The only way we can stop it from becoming yet another international day celebrated as a formality every year, is through concerted efforts to work on some of the major issues regarding the girl child.


There are many issues concerning girls such as child marriages, low enrolment in schools and neglect of their health and nutrition needs. We need to advocate and lobby for more focused policies and programmes to improve the status of the girl child. We need to use the opportunity provided by the International Day of the Girl Child, every year to reflect upon achievements, fine tune our policies and redesign our programme, if required.


Do you see that Population First’s efforts have had an impact on the media?


I see lot of positivity and openness from the media towards these issues and a willingness to approach them differently. In the current media scenario, many of these issues are being addressed but more need attention. We, at Population First believe that we have to start a dialogue with all stakeholders, media being a primary stakeholder. We, as a nation have internalised, and have deeply ingrained patriarchal values to an extent that unless someone points it out, at times we are unaware of a possible patriarchal tone in our public communications. We need to initiate dialogues with all groups of society, so that together we can build a more gender-sensitive society.


02, In your experience interacting with marketers and advertising agency professionals, do you think they are sincere in their attempts to appreciate the responsibility towards the girl child in a society like ours?

Our experience with the advertising professionals has been very positive. We found them to be open-minded, willing to look at our standpoints and revise their current approach. From the time we began interacting with professionals in the advertising industry in 2008 up to today, we find a much greater presence of girls in advertising and many advertisements that are now projecting positive and non-stereotypical images of girls.


03.  Do you think self-regulation bodies like ASCI, Advertising Club and AAAI should also take it upon themselves to promote the cause?

Yes, definitely. It is important that activists working on gender issues and the regulatory bodies of media and advertising work together to ensure that the media does not project demeaning and negative images of girls. It is also imperative that  media does not consciously or otherwise, support or promote negative social attitudes and practices such as eve-teasing, commodification, objectification of women and violence.


04.  What are your views on gender biases in today’s advertising?

In 2008, during our analysis of advertisements showing girl children, we found that girls had a lesser presence and were often presented in a stereotypical fashion, for example mostly endorsing products that have been promoted by their mothers too. It was also observed that an ideal family is always shown as mother-father with one daughter and one son, or two sons. Rarely did we find ads showing two daughters. While a lot has changed in the last few years, in terms of projection of girls in advertisements, it is still rare to find an advertisement where two daughters are shown in a family setting. This, I believe, promotes the perception that a son is a must in the family. In a context where the country’s sex ratio is declining, this is a very disturbing trend.


Television serials, television and print media content also further aggravate this image of women. What are your views here?


Yes, it is true that the portrayal of women in print and electronic media is regressive and voyeuristic in flavour and we have to work on changing this. This is why we have instituted Laadli Media Awards for Gender Sensitivity. We have received 1500 entries this year and the quality of the content is improving. There is a lot of potential for change. The most pertinent example here is that of the popular show, Satyamev Jayate, which has suddenly got numerous issues into our drawing rooms. It shows the effect of one strong programme with a potent combination of Aamir Khan, an industry giant like Reliance and a media tool like Star TV. This shows that there is potential to bring social change. New media and its various options are also democratizing the way news now reaches out and has gained momentum with youth across the country as tools for creating public opinion. It is an exciting time to be, in terms of working with media on social issues


05.  One view of marketers is that they need to sell to consumers, given the prevailing behavioural patterns, and that they are not in a position to correct these attitudes. How do we bring about a change in this view?

I would like to highlight two ads here. For instance, an HDFC investment plan ad shows a father investing for his daughter’s education instead of a more common notion, such as saving for her marriage. This is a positive and refreshing approach to the product and in no way undermines the value of the product. The other ad I would like to mention is the Tata Nano ad where a small girl hugs the car, and the father gives her the car keys. This shows that the father is proud of his daughter. Giving visibility to girls in ads, is by itself crucial. We need to see more such instances where girls have to be shown in a capable light and in diverse concepts while selling a product. After all, communication is all about conveying the message effectively, is it not?

(Interviewed by Fatema Rajkotwala)


Last December, the United Nations declared that it would annually observe the International Day of the Girl Child, starting from October 11, 2012. Supported by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), in partnership with Whisper, leading non-government social welfare organization Population First will celebrate the first International Day of the Girl Child today (October 11) at Mumbai’s Y B Chavan Centre (*see disclosure below).


The first ever International Day of the Girl Child is marked to help prioritize girls’ rights as the salient issue in the coming decades. ‘Laadli‘ is Population First’s Girl Child campaign against sex selection and falling sex ratio. It focuses on creating a positive image of the Girl Child in society.


Veteran adperson Bobby Sista is Executive Trustee, of Population First. Mr Sista spoke to MxMIndia about the positive response from the advertising world towards the issue, “The response from the advertising world has been encouraging. We, at Population First are absolutely delighted that at last a global body has recognised that the girl child is a special category that needs special, global attention. One of our primary focuses is to eradicate the horrible practice of pre-birth sex selection. I have been highlighting and propagating the economic value of the woman as a homemaker in our society and her contribution to the country’s GDP. A woman is at least four times better at being a manager, or doing any job today. Why always talk about the girl child in a suppressed context? What is it that a woman cannot do today, that a man can do?”


Dr A L Sharada, Director, Population First spoke about the need for activists and media bodies to work together to bring about social change, “It is important that activists working on gender issues and the regulatory bodies of media and advertising work together to ensure that the media does not project demeaning and negative images of girls. There is a lot of potential for change. New media and its various options are also democratizing the way news now reaches out and has gained momentum with youth across the country as tools for creating public opinion. It is an exciting time to be, in terms of working with media on social issues.”


Part of the multi-stage campaign, ‘Question Everything’ was a two-day workshop on Creative Thinking, Communication and Gender. Organized by ‘Laadli’ Changemakers Club of Population First, the workshop engaged students from Mass Media colleges across Mumbai, with an aim to involve the youth in a dialogue on gender issues, with a focus on enhancing the image of the girl child. Highly experienced advertising and media professionals such as Gautam Rakshit, Gopi Kukde, K V Sridhar (eka Pops), Dolly Thakore and Zoya Akhtar shared their expertise and guidance with students. The event will see the launch of 1MM, one-minute movies made by college students questioning gender inequality and injustice.


Says Mr Sridhar, National Creative Director, Leo Burnett , “We have realised that at times, lack of knowledge and sensitivity tend to be the reason for negative content. But when you’re creating something, you have a white paper in front of you, you can create anything. We need to influence content creators first, then clients, then people themselves to come out of years of reinforced images of family planning. When you sensitise teens and youngsters, power to impact is higher. The new mantra for communication in the digital era is- Play, Buy and then Share. Young minds involved in making a one minute movie raise issues without fear to express and once you get involved, you think about it, play it with experience, then you buy into the philosophy, then you share it. Youth sharing via mass media tool such as Facebook or Twitter have a far reaching impact. This is a process that has been initiated. That is how social revolutions were made, religions and value were spread.”


Part of the event’s agenda is to recognise young women achievers such as the female fire-fighters of the Mumbai Fire Brigade. The event will also felicitate celebrity parents and daughters who have made a mark for themselves in media, corporate and political circles.


Population First has also introduced the Laadli Media Awards for Gender Sensitivity to encourage and recognise media content that has positive social messages for the girl child.


Disclosure: MxMIndia has published for Population First a special volume on the First International Day of the Girl Child that will be released at an event in Mumbai this evening (October 11). Also, we strongly believe in the cause and feel that media and entertainment can play a key role in changing gender perceptions. – Ed.




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