In a pioneering initiative the International Advertising Association (IAA) India Chapter, held a change summit titled Voice of Change: Gender Portrayal from 30 seconds to 3 hours, where the important conversation on gender parity, as seen in media, was brought forth in a day of discussions, debates and research findings. IAA started the journey last year with a research study in partnership with UNICEF, conducted by the Geena Davis Institute on gender representation in advertising. Taking their cue from the facts presented in the study, the industry body decided to initiate tangible change through the dialogue required to bring about gender sensitivity amongst the people at the helm of content creation and marketing in India.
Kicking off the event, Nina Elavia Jaipuria, Chairperson, IAA Women Empowerment Committee and Head – Hindi Mass Entertainment and Kids TV Network, Viacom18, said “Voice of Change harkens the need of a more sensitised and inclusive narrative in content and all the creative minds present here – content creators, brand custodians and students are the powerhouses behind creating and marketing that content now and in the years to come. The IAA has stepped up and brought all this learning and more out in the public eye and today through this summit takes on the critical role to not only educate and inform but also empower effective change.”
The day of learning started with a compelling address by honourable Chief Guest Smt. Poonam Mahajan, MP North Central Mumbai. She told the full house her story, talking about her journey where at every step she, very organically, broke stereotypes and stands where she is today. From being a pilot to a Member of Parliament, she has taken on challenges head on and proven her mettle. Her empowering words were followed by a keynote address by esteemed academician Dr. Ranjana Kumari, Director, Centre for Social Research and a special address by Arjan De Wagt, Officer in Charge – Deputy Representative Programmes – UNICEF India where he said, “For UNICEF, gender equity is a critical agenda and foundational for all the work UNICEF does worldwide. For societies to flourish, it is vital to increase the value of girls and that needs to happen right through her lifecycle. When a woman is pregnant, when a girl child is born, when she is growing… is she getting adequate nutrition, is she given equal opportunities to go to school, is she getting access to basic health care and is she being skilled and empowered. We as a society have to collectively ask ourselves these questions and take actions to change norms that create gender inequalities.”
The first segment of the day culminated in felicitating Gender Warriors – Shambhu V Sista, an advertising legend popularly known as Bobby Sista; Guneet Monga, a luminary from the world of filmmaking; and Ramesh Narayan, another decorated veteran of the advertising industry. All three Gender Warriors have taken up the cause of equality and fair representation in their fields through seminal work and a commitment to making the world a more equal place.
The day powered on to a session by Manisha Kapoor, CEO and Secretary general Of Advertising Standard Council of India (ASCI) who dove into the GenderNext report titled Follow Her Lead – GenderNext: A Study on Portrayal of Women in Advertising with Knowledge partners ASCI. The report and the resulting frameworks provides an important tool for the industry to improve representation of women in advertising. Following that was an interesting talk by Santosh Desai, MD – Futurebrands Consulting who spoke about the cultural perspective of gender portrayal. Next up in this segment was Prasun Basu, Head of Growth and Digital Transformation – Kantar, who delivered a session on the Business Case for Progressive Gender Portrayal in Advertising.
While there is more to do, we have come a long way in the last decade, and that is what the next speaker highlighted. A firebrand change maker, DR. A L SHARADA, Director of Population First spoke on the topic: “Moving the Needle: Gender Portrayal over a decade of advertising”.
The segment was wrapped up with a fiery discussion moderated by acclaimed journalist, Anuradha Sengupta who spoke to panellists – Nitesh Priyadarshi, Vice President Consumer & Market Insights South Asia, Unilever; Deepika Warrier, CMO, Diageo; Tista Sen, Regional Creative Director, Wunderman Thompson SA; Lipika Kumaran, Author GenderNext | Sr. VP – Futurebrands Consulting and Dr. Falguni Vasavada, Professor, MICA. From discussing the need for normalisation of fair gender portrayals in advertising, to highlighting the need for creators to move beyond staid tropes, the panel resulted in several pertinent views.
The post lunch segment of the summit dealt with Gender-Conscious Creativity in Films and OTT, starting off with a meaningful session by Dr Nandita Shah, Director, Akshara Centre who presented their efforts of the Gaana Rewrite initiative, with a fantastic performance by Shefali Saxena who sang the gender sensitive versions of popular songs. The next session was by the illustrious academician Dr. Lakshmi Lingam Dean & Professor, School of Media and Cultural Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), on the topic Screening Women: Mapping Gender and Work in Hindi Cinema which brought valuable insights like what kind of roles women were seen in, the representation of LGBTQIA+ characters and the fact that female crew members on sets often don’t even have access to toilets.
The second panel discussion of the day, moderated by celebrated author, journalist and film critic Anupama Chopra, brought together actor, director, producer and social change advocate Nandita Das; Monika Shergill, VP-Content-Netflix India; national award winning director and producer Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury; and national award winning filmmaker and journalist, Dr. Vibha Bakshi. The conversation was an illuminating exchange on the chicken and egg situation of the economics of content vs the ethics of it. While the needle is moving and platforms and media players are focusing on being more inclusive, it is important for the whole ecosystem to come together and do their part.
The afternoon highlight was a fireside chat with Vidya Balan, actor par excellence and Unicef Celebrity Advocate, where she said, “We know that advertising and all forms of media have immense potential to promote women’s and girls’ empowerment but they also have the potential to harbor harmful stereotypes through unrealistic portrayals of girls and women. Sometimes creative formats also run the risks of reinforcing traditional gender roles and promoting gender discrimination in homes and outside. As a celebrity advocate for UNICEF, I endeavour to continue to advocate on gender equality that fuels aspirations of girls and women and help shift the perceptions of people.”
Followed by an enriching tete-a-tete, popular celebrity talk show host and producer, Atika Farooqui sat down with Zainab Patel, Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer, Pernod Ricard who is a change maker in her own right having championed trans rights throughout her life. The engrossing conversations ranged from bringing forth the inaccessibility of everyday opportunities to the unique stressors of a trans life. The session ended in a resounding standing ovation as Ms. Patel struck a chord with everyone present.
As the day of learning, thought-provoking perspectives and notable conversations came to an end, the takeaways were an understanding of where the industry stands, where the bottlenecks are and what needs to be done to achieve a truly fair and equal representation of gender in media, whether it be in a 30 seconds TVC or a 3 hours film or anything in between. It is paramount that collectively we all come together to break the bias.