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

11 Oct,2012

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)


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