2020 has been a watershed year, where the Covid-19 pandemic impacted the world in unprecedented ways. It exposed the fissures in our social fabric – the inequalities, vulnerabilities and marginalisation of large sections of people. The poignant pictures of the exodus of migrant workers from cities to their villages will remain forever etched in our minds and will prick our conscience for a long time. The plight of women domestic workers, transgender persons, sex workers and the poor was suddenly headline news. With the lockdown, the loss of domestic help, and with several of us working from home, the spotlight was on the gender roles in the family and the need for male participation in domestic chores.
Unfortunately, forced proximity to a perpetrator of violence has led to increased violence. Further, the lack of health services jeopardised the sexual and reproductive health of women.
The work from home format has also led to young people moving back with their parents, calling for more adjustments in multi-generational families.
The advertising industry, I would say, responded well to reflect these new challenges and trends in their communication while trying to sell products and services as best as they could.
Intergenerational families were the flavour of early Covid days. Families working and engaging with each other – men learning to cook, youngsters teaching elderly people to use technology, and young boys helping in household chores were celebrated. Those were positive images of change that should not remain restricted to pandemic times alone. Whether the woman is a homemaker or a working woman, it is time we normalise sharing of household work between men and women. It is a fact that many men have started sharing the load of household work during the lockdown and later. However, now with domestic help back with us, the change should not remain as an aberration in extraordinary circumstances but should continue in the post-Covid era as well. This can happen only when the positive images of men being engaged in household chores keep popping up again and again, as normally as the images of women, in advertising commercials.
The work from home scenario was also used as the background for many ads and I am glad to note that many of them have portrayed women, as well. Similarly, the ads acknowledged the contribution of women frontline workers in response to Covid-19, which was heartening. We need more such visibility of working women, leaders, achievers and role models in our communication to counter the deep-rooted under-valuing of women and girls in our society. In the light of the falling workforce participation of women in India, it is time we create a social context where for women, working becomes an expression of their aspirations and a choice but not the last resort in times of a financial crisis for the family. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) theme for this year's International Women's Day is 'Women in Leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.'
The advertising world needs to focus on this theme with renewed rigour and commitment.
The digital divide and its impact on girls have been quite significant. Dropping out of schools, early marriages, trafficking and child prostitution have been reported in dire situations due to impoverishment, loss of livelihoods and closure of schools. There is a need to bring these into conversations creatively in commercials, aligning them with the human values that the brands stand for.
It was also heartening to note young men being the advocates for a more equal world, be it paying the domestic help, using a digital wallet or questioning why men cannot do cooking and washing vessels. We need to have more men as advocates for gender equality and redefining gender roles to make a change for an equal world with a shared vision of men and women.
Let us not look at International Women’s Day as a 'Happy Women’s Day' with free coupons, gifts and discounts. Definitely, we do not want to bear the extra burden of being multi-taskers and superwomen. Let work-life balance be equally relevant for men. Let us celebrate this International Women's Day in its true spirit by reaffirming our commitment to building a just and equal world, using the power of communication.
The author is director, Population First