Advocating Gender Equality: Dr A L Sharada, Director of Population First
Media and advertising are largely responsible for forming opinions in the minds of the consumers, through subliminal messaging. Advertising is a message that a brand sends out to its consumers.
Here is a reference on how brands speak to consumers in Huffingtonpost.
"In 1981, LEGOs were simple and gender-neutral, and the creativity of the child produced the message," Giordano told her. "In 2014, it’s the reverse: the toy delivers a message to the child, and this message is weirdly about gender.”
Media and advertising are therefore very influential in the way genders are perceived. Though there has been a change in the way Indian women are portrayed in advertising there is a lot more to be done. There are more socially conscious advertisements today where women have taken on more responsible roles.
Dr A L Sharada, Director of Population First, has been working on making the media portray women in the right light, through an UNFPA funded initiative Laadli. Population First works on population and health issues from women's rights and social development perspective.
Dr Sharada has been working in the development sector for the last 18 years. She was a faculty member at Hyderabad University and Indian Institute of Health Management Research (IIHMR), Jaipur. She was also associated with SIFPSA, a joint population programme of Government of India, Government of Uttar Pradesh and USAID. She has handled many short-term consultancy assignments for UNICEF and UNFPA in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra.
Dr A L Sharada talks to us about her work on bringing about gender equality in the media and advertising space:
What are the biggest misconceptions that you have encountered while working with Laadli and Population First?
10 years back people did not even acknowledge that sex selection happens in affluent and educated families in Mumbai. The difference between then and now is that people are now questioning why no one is raising a voice against it. Sex selection at birth isn’t a problem of literacy. This is a conscious economic decision that families make and this is a fact that most people acknowledge at last. Now we need to approach this problem right from the root, which is why the crusade for gender equality is even more important in today’s age.
Another big misconception that I have encountered while working with media is that media cannot change opinions. Their job is to inform, entertain and sell products. However it is evident by now to everyone that media does make a difference.
Do you feel women in India resist change?
Women in India are more rigorously socialized to support patriarchal values. Even so, now more and more women want change because their aspirations have increased considerably. Women from rural areas are even willing to educate their daughters provided they have the facilities within their reach. Women wanting change, therefore, isn’t just an urban phenomenon anymore.
What are the challenges you faced while bringing about change to a particular section of society? Could you explain with an example?
Working with village communities in Shahpur was extremely challenging. When we visited the villages their apathetic attitude was the first barrier that we had to tackle. Villagers were not confident of themselves having received little or no support from the government for years. After working with existing women’s groups by strengthening them or forming new women’s groups in these villages, the attitudes of the villagers took a complete turnaround. Mobilization of the villagers through workshops, trainings and events has convinced them that they can make the government work for them better.
To give an example, we have started a vermin-composting project in 15 villages in Shahpur led by women. Not only have they taken over the project, the women are also marketing the product they make, work shoulder to shoulder with male farmers and are successful in this venture. Because of the confidence the women have garnered they have managed to stop liquor brewing in their village and neighbouring villages with the help of the local police.
How does one address the mindset of people you meet to give women due credit in society?
When you approach someone who doesn’t give value to a woman’s role in society it is important to not talk down to such a person. You never know what has led to making the person think that way about women in society. There is no use taking a confrontational approach to the argument. Listening, raising a few pertinent questions to deconstruct the argument helps to a great extent. Allowing the person to reflect after the argument and not badgering him or her will also help you drive home the point effectively.
What advice would you want to give to sheroes.in?
There is nothing like a perfect gender equal context. We all need to negotiate for our rights, our space and pursue our ambitions without feeling guilty or apologetic. The choice for being a working mother, or a stay at home mother, to marry or be single, to be the person you want to be – this is a choice that you need to make. You have to stand up for your right, space and dignity. When you do that, the world automatically becomes a better place for you and all the women.