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Dear Advertisers! Cleaning Is Not Just A Woman’s Job

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I have always loved watching advertisements and have grown up humming ad songs and mimicking them. The short and interesting phrases jammed with catchy tunes and interesting visuals compels us to memorise them and we end up punctuating our conversations with ad slogans. The fact that they instantly hijack our unconscious headspace and easily enter into our everyday discourse reflects the strong ideological, cultural and social impact they cast upon us, without us being aware of it.

While underlining ideologies propagated through advertisements are a mere reflection of the society, the powerful impact of advertisements can also be used to question normative structures of the society. There have been only few ad campaigns in India which have attempted to do that and most of them only contribute to the larger narrative of society’s dominant practices. One of them being outright sexism and baseless categorisations of male and female chores. Observing these gender-based divisions has almost decimated my love for advertisements.

Although there are so many advertisements that reveal this problem, I would like to stick to cleansing merchandise ads to highlight the inherent ideological flaws in them. Dishwashing soaps, detergents, toilet and floor cleaners and soap advertisements mostly have women (as mothers and housewives) using them, as if they are the only ones who are responsible to keep everything clean and tidy and it is solely their job to clean dirty dishes, utensils, toilets and clothes.

In following advertisement snippet, we see a mother-in-law asking her daughter-in-law about washing dirty clothes (“Par tumhare haatho ka kaam badhaa diya“) which is normalising the fact that only women are supposed to clean clothes and it is their ‘haatho ka kaam’. And the product is there to make things ‘easy’  for her.

Another cleansing detergent ad which is mostly anchored by television personality Ram Kapoor is about liquid gel dishwasher where he replaces bar soap with liquid gel and hands it over to a lady. Ideally, if he had come to tell her about the new easy alternative, he should have demonstrated it himself. But we don’t see that happen in the ad because the visual of a well-dressed man doing dishes would send chills across the spines of the viewers. Also, the fact that a man is telling the woman to make a ‘wise’ choice of liquid detergents reveals the idea that men are wise and smart beings who are there only to guide naïve and gullible women about right things and women are only to follow his guidelines and do things as directed.

It is noteworthy that even when men are not physically present in some of these ads, the voiceover that tells women about the product is that of a man and not a woman. This alludes to the didactic attitude of dominant males who are constantly watching women perform roles within their assigned purview and directing them to make fair choices because apparently, women don’t have the brain to think for themselves. Take, for example, the following cloth washing ad where the male voiceover derogatorily asks women (haha, chowk gayi deviyon? Ye hai naya Tide Naturals sirf ₹10 mein) to switch to an effective and low-cost product.

Toilet cleaning advertisements are yet another chunk imparting gender-based roles to the society. If you google Indian advertisements on toilet and floor cleaning liquids, you will only find women cleaning the floors and toilets. The following snippet only has women in all the three consecutive results. Toilet cleaning is believed to be one of the murkiest jobs and only the women of the house are deemed fit for it. It is disturbing that we have never ever seen a man in any such advertisements. Even in our own houses, we rarely find men cleaning toilets and floors.

‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ is on full swing and we have been constantly bombarded with government-sponsored advertisements on encouraging people to build toilets and use them. The recently launched ‘Darwaza Band’ campaign under the Swachh Bharat Mission has been solely based on using toilets. The campaign ad is anchored by well-known Bollywood actress – Anushka Sharma who prods women to encourage men on using toilets. In this preachy ad, we only see a group of women being lectured by the actress on why it is important for women to raise their voice and ask men to use toilets.

The important issues of menstrual hygiene and women related problems are not brought up in the ad which claims to be on “women safety”. The ad is more focused on men not using toilets and less upon women’s health and safety issues. It only talks about using toilets but doesn’t tell us as to why one should use them. Apparently, this advertisement also tends to hold women responsible for unchanging practices in the village and therefore we see the actress addressing women (while referring to men) by asking- “Abhi bhi shauch ghar se baahar? (do they still go out to defecate?)” The campaign slogan- “Jab jaagegi naari to badhegi duniya saari” itself is a clear justification of the argument that a woman is obligated to uphold moral values and it is her duty to ensure sanitation and healthy cleaning practices.

Repeatedly, the onus of keeping everything clean lies upon the women and it is their “haatho ka kaam”. Moreover, in places where toilets are still a distant idea, she needs to ensure that men stop going out for defecation. Even in those cases, she is the one who would be required to clean it on a regular basis, not the men. Hygiene is important for everyone regardless of your gender and therefore, it is unjustified to only force it on women.

Among these ad campaigns which have just re-iterated the dominant beliefs, there has been few others which have attempted to alter advertising practices by not conforming to the conventional norms. One such ad campaign was- Aerial’s ‘Share the load’ campaign. Revered as one the best ad campaign of 2016, it questioned the practice of considering laundry as a woman’s job only.

Without being preachy in any sense, the series of ads spoke about bringing minimal changes. The campaign was magnified on social media and a lot of people shared their ideas on role-reversal practices. This campaign is an example of how a small advertisement with a strong message appealing for minimal changes can initiate positive conversations. It is time that advertisers think outside the pre-defined boxes (literally) so that we get to see more such ad campaigns in other merchandise commercials as well.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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