What women should do

A new series of advertisements intended to spark constructive dialogue globally on the twin issues of women’s empowerment and equality has taken on proportions that possibly were never envisaged when the concept was floated. The advertisements, four in number, show four head-shot portraits of women of differing ages and ethnicities, who appear to have been silenced by a white band across their mouths. On each band there is what appears to be the beginning of a Google search on women and four prompts that would have appeared as a result of certain key words being entered. At the bottom of each ad is a single sentence which counters the prompts.

Technology has advanced to the stage where when someone begins an online search on any subject under the sun, Google, or whichever search engine is being used offers the most likely responses as prompts. This is supposed to make searches that much easier, especially given the magnitude of what is now available online.

According to UN Women, the agency for which the advertisement concept was developed, Christopher Hunt, Art Director of the creative team at the Dubai-based ad company Memac, Ogilvy & Mather (MOM), said his team was shocked at the negativity which was evident whenever they started Google searches on women. The company decided to showcase these searches through the ad campaign for UN Women, to shed light on the continuing prevalence of sexism and discrimination against women. The searches were done on March 9, 2013.

When the key words ‘women should’ were typed into the search engine, some of the prompts were: ‘women should stay at home’; ‘women should be slaves’; ‘women should not speak in church’ and ‘women should be in the kitchen’. At the bottom of this ad, a single line in response to this reads: women should have the right to make their own decisions.

An independent search done using Google (Guyana) brought up an additional prompt: ‘women should be seen and not heard’. Yes. Really. It is important to note that the prompts which pop up indicate what are the most searched for items with the use of certain key words. A copywriter at MOM noted that the searches showed that there is still a far way to go where women’s rights and the achievement of gender equality were concerned.

Before the publication of the ad series, UN Women had already made the same point in its post-2015 position paper. The document, published in June this year, calls for a transformative stand-alone goal on achieving gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment. The document noted that in some instances, the push to achieve one or more of the eight Millennium Development Goals, or to give the appearance of achievement had seen some countries simply addressing statistical rather than quality outcomes. It pointed, for instance, to Goal 2 – Achieve Universal Primary Education and noted that in some places, while the numbers of children attending primary schools were encouraging, the quality of education provided left a lot to be desired. In addition, there were issues with regard to safety and security around schools.

The point made by the UN Women’s ad and some of the rabid responses to it reveal a similar situation as regards Goal 3 – Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women; that there is a marked lack of quality in the moves to attain this goal.

Meanwhile, in the ad that has taken on viral proportions online, when the key words ‘women need to’ were typed in, some of the prompts were: ‘women need to be disciplined’, ‘women need to know their place’, ‘women need to be controlled’ and ‘women need to be put in their place’. An independent local search also revealed the prompt: ‘women need to stand up for themselves’. Indeed, this is what women should do, along with standing up for each other, rather than on each other. It would be foolish to pretend that women’s rights are observed by all women all of the time. Change is needed and right now is usually the best time to start.

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