How India can see more gender sensitive ads

05 Dec,2013


Last week, Population First hosted a day-long workshop titled ‘Men are from Venus, Women are from Mars’. The event, supported by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and with Social Access as knowledge partner, saw key issues of gender sensitization being discussed.


Although it was planned some months back, in the light of the Tarun Tejpal episode, there was much attention on the issues discussed.


A key component of the workshop was a report analyzing decisions taken by the Adevertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) on indecent representation of women. The report was undertaken by Feroza Sanjana under the guidance of the UNFPA and Population First.


We present here the recommendations made in the report and the conclusion.


Towards greater participation: Three major means to motivate greater participation to strengthen ASCI’s complaints mechanism include a need for increased awareness of ASCI, increased gender sensitivity and strengthening compliance.


(a) Greater awareness of the ASCI: With regard to awareness initiatives, despite starting a TVC campaign there still remains a low awareness of ASCI, according to Mr. Collaco and Mr. Narayan. There is a strong need to inform people of the existence of the complaints mechanism and the easy accessibility on the ASCI website. This could be done through strengthening the ASCI National ad campaign in print and TV to motivate consumers to complain to ASCI in case they find an ad misleading, offending or harmful. In order to further promote this, ASCI conducted a contest at Goa Fest to promote responsible creativity under the theme Creativity with a conscience, open to advertising, marketing and media professionals, which revolved around creating short films using a mobile phone, in which more than 120 teams participated.


(b) Motivating the public and ASCI members to participate: Create widespread public demand for gender-sensitive advertising through the propagation of gender equality. Improve the participation from CSOs, NGOs and women’s groups in this initiative to advocate the correct depiction of women in advertising. Sensitise ASCI members to gender equality to increase suo moto complaints by conducting training workshops. The NAMS initiative of the ASCI when complete will also empower ASCI members with a database of gender-sensitive advertising.


(c) Strengthening the compliance code: A major factor influencing the desire to complain is the rate of compliance of offending clients and advertisers with complaints upheld by the CCC. The compliance rate of total complaints upheld has increased from 75.4 per cent in 2007-08 to 86.4 per cent in 2011-12. For gender issues, the compliance levels to complaints upheld by the CCC are 100 per cent. However, the number of complaints upheld is very low to begin with. The compliance code needs to be more specific in case of gender-sensitive advertising. NAMS is a welcome initiative by the ASCI. Also decisions by the CCC need to be taken fast so action against offensive ads are taken as soon as they are aired and not after they are off air.


The power of ASCI has considerably increased due to compliance with the ASCI Code being mandated in the Cable TV Network Act Amendment, 2006. However, outdoor and print ads are excluded from its purview. UNFPA and Population First with ASCI can take up the issue with the GOI to make ASCI a more comprehensive regulatory body.


2. Create safe spaces for discussion: A major number of offensive ads come from product categories such as deodorants and cosmetics, including fairness creams. In the case of the former, there is a need for campaigns which reposition their product in a gender-sensitive manner. In case of the latter, a discussion and open debate should be started on whether advertising for fairness creams is problematic, or whether the product itself is a problem. If so, then a similar regulation as in the case of ads for alcohol and cigarettes should be applicable. UNFPA and Population First need to advocate discussions in various fora about these issues with a longterm view in mind.


3. Highlight positives: There are examples of ads being made today which can serve as good examples of gender sensitivity and which deal with sex in a gender-neutral tone.


(a) Build more evidence: There are still gaps in knowledge regarding the impact of the depiction of greater gender sensitivity in advertisements on sales. There is a strong need for further research in this field, as the findings of such a study will provide evidence-based advocacy with clients as well as advertisers.


(b) Make it interactive: There is no formal mechanism to measure the impact of self-regulation in changing attitudes towards gender issues within the advertising industry. There needs to be a feedback mechanism to gauge the level of gender sensitivity in the industry as a whole. Reliable information can lead to a formulation of a good strategy towards gender sensitisation efforts.


4. Specify and strengthen the ASCI Code: The rationales provided by the CCC are broad-based and at times underspecified. A detailed guideline on representation of women and gender sensitivity in advertising is needed to provide a uniform rationale which reduces subjectivity in decision making. In addition, a more specific code and quick implementation of NAMS will serve as an incentive to the general public to complain.


Following this, it is suggested that the following clauses be included in the ASCI Code (See Table).




Between 2007 and 2012, ASCI has significantly strengthened its ability to self-regulate and has on average achieved a high level of compliance, which is now also mandated in law. To further build on this, we hope that the above findings provide concrete direction for future engagements between Population First, UNFPA and ASCI. Finally, we hope that better organisation, improved record keeping and a less restrictive anti-disclosure policy in the management of ASCI would help researchers in the future.


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