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January 19, 2020

Portrayal of women’s societal role in advertisements discussed


January 19, 2020

You must have watched the new ad of a packaged spice mixes producer in which a man is cooking for his daughter because his wife is dead. “But, like I said, his wife had to be dead,” said Bond Advertising CEO Seema Jaffer. The room bursts into laughter.

Seema, who is associated with the Pakistan Advertising Association, then referred to the campaign of a laundry detergent manufacturer in which the workload of washing clothes was divided between men and women.

“It did affect the norms. People started thinking,” she said, and gave an example of how cricketer Sana Mir stresses not on smooth skin but on the fact that she can play.

Seema was addressing the launch of a diary, titled ‘Women of Pakistan: Time to See and Be the Change’, by the Uks Research Centre in the Defence Housing Authority neighbourhood on Saturday. Uks works on media monitoring as well as advocacy, especially on gender issues. Every year the research centre launches a diary on a different theme.

Uks Director Tasneem Ahmer, who also moderated the discussion at the launch, shared the theme of this year’s diary, which is regarding advertisers and how they portray women’s role in society.

She asked everyone if they had seen the ad of an electronic home appliances maker that touches on dowry. In the ad a father and his daughter and son-in-law stop at a shop to buy furniture.

When the son-in-law sees his father-in-law paying for the furniture, he stops him and asks, “Why would you pay for the commodities of my home?”

“The way the father says ‘beti ka baap hoon’ [I’m the father of a daughter],” said Tasneem, “it was like torture to watch that ad repeatedly,” she frowned. Objecting to the spice mixes ad, she asked why we have to have a sad story for a man to cook.


Senior journalist Afia Salam shed light on how all the products that have some health benefits are for boys. The ads of butter, energy supplements, et cetera, she pointed out, clearly give the message that the diet or health of a boy is important.

“It is proven that not [only] in this city but in most of the other places the diet of a girl is compromised,” she said. “Her health is also compromised for the same reason because she’s not given the same diet. She’s someone who needs more nutrition than a boy because of her reproductive function.”

She explained how the marketing regions of our products are either Middle East or South Asia. “We are not doing what India is doing as far as the social message is concerned,” she stressed.

She asked not to look at European models for advertisement. “For Pakistani media people, the Indian media, as far as journalism is concerned, is something we should not be looking at. But advertising is something we definitely should be looking at.”

She then gave the example of Indian actor and director Nandita Das, who has a dark complexion. “It was a beautiful campaign for dark skin with her,” she pointed out, saying that in India there is a social impact, for those who do not have fair skin are considered inferior. That stereotype in India was broken in a beautiful manner and with great sensitivity with Nandita. Still, said Afia, in Pakistan we have campaigns like ‘Pakistan will have fair skin’.


Clinical psychologist Dr Asha Bedar, who specialises in violence against women, stressed that the whole idea of an advertisement is to sell a product. If the trends and demands are generally changing society, she said, the ads will change accordingly.

“We cannot see that significant change in society as yet because [the ads] are still reflecting, exactly, either what society wants or stereotypical things that society has,” she said, and added that the trends are not going to change, as it’s a cycle.

She then gave the example of how most of the ads these days are focusing more on feminism and encouraging gender equality. She believes that the reason of this is because there is much talk of feminism. “Feminism is selling. So the idea is that since the product needs to be sold, the new idea [of feminism] needs to be shown,” she said.

Men in ads of tea can be seen serving the drink to their wives. Even though it’s just dipping a teabag in a cup of water, she said, a man does it in the ad. “Though it’s nothing complicated,” she laughed.

She then pointed out the washing powder ad in which a man comes home angry because his collar is dirty and he feels embarrassed and throws a tantrum at his wife. “It reinforces the anxiety in women, and particularly in a certain social class.”