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ASCI releases guidelines to prevent harmful gender stereotypes

The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) on Wednesday released guidelines to check on portrayal of “harmful gender stereotypes”. The self-regulatory industry body said these guidelines aim to lay down boundaries for unacceptable portrayals in ads while encouraging advertisers to create more progressive gender depictions.

ASCI said while its code already had provisions to prevent offensive depictions based on gender among others, the latest guidelines provide a broader interpretation in-line with the evolving society. It added that while the guidelines focus on portrayal of women, they also provide “guardrails for depiction of other genders.”

‘Time to step up’
The guidelines stated that ads must not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm or serious or widespread offence. It added that while ads may feature people undertaking or displaying gender-stereotypical roles or characteristics. “But, they must not suggest that stereotypical roles or characteristics are always uniquely associated with a particular gender; are the only options available to a particular gender or are never carried out or displayed by another gender(s),” it pointed out.

Releasing the guidelines, Minister of Women and Child Development Smriti Irani said while this is an important move by ASCI, there is still a long journey ahead. “While there are some who are happy with incremental changes that has been made in the advertising industry, women of my generation are a bit more impatient. It is time for the advertising industry to step up,” she added.

The guidelines also stress that ads should not indulge in the sexual objectification of any genders for the purpose of titillating viewers. Ads also cannot show any gender being encouraged to exert domination or authority over others by provoking or trivialising violent, unlawful or anti-social behaviour based on gender.

Addressing the gap
Subhash Kamath, Chairman, ASCI, told BusinessLine: “By framing these guidelines, we are trying to help the industry understand gender portrayals from a more nuanced standpoint given there have been massive societal changes. Conversations around gender equality, equal opportunity and diversity have only started to happen over the last decade. When we did the GenderNext report last year in October, we realised how progressive women have become in the country and how much they view advertising portrayals as stereotypical. So we felt its important for our own industry to address this gap and have more progressive gender portrayals in ads,” he added.

Brands should ensure that their ads do not suggest that an individual’s happiness or emotional well-being depends on conforming to certain stereotypical body shapes or physical features when featuring “glamorous or attractive” people. Ads should also not mock people for not conforming to gender stereotypes, their sexual orientation or gender identity especially in a context that is intended to be humorous, hyperbolic or exaggerated, it added.

Other provision of the guidelines include that ads should not reinforce unrealistic and undesirable gender ideals or expectations. For instance: women being shown as having the sole responsibility for doing household duties or a woman overly grateful for the man helping her in everyday chores. It added that an ads cannot suggest that a person fails to achieve a task because of their gender or because they do not fit a stereotype.

Manisha Kapoor, CEO & Secretary General, ASCI, added the new guidelines were finalised after extensive consultation with industry, civil society organisations, including the Unstereotype Alliance and UNICEF and involved analysis of over 600 ads. The Hindu BusinessLine

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