The unfortunate fact about market based gender discrimination is that it exists across borders and across socio-economic strata. In my blog, I focus on two of the many functions that markets perform - selling and employment. Although markets represent people (and their mindsets) it tends to take an overarching role as an institution in influencing all others who engage with it. In a paternalistic society markets become an amplified representation of a mindset that discriminates against women.
For most of us our first engagement with the market is as a buyer of a product/ service or as a viewer of advertised messages. Market actors keep innovating new ways to sell more. Deep rooted paternalistic mindset pushes marketers to find creative ways to promote gender stereotypes through product design and/ or promotions. It’s the market which defines that a girl should play with dolls and kitchen sets while boys should play with cars and action figures. Designated ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ sections in a toy store reinforce gender stereotypes among adults and children.
A popular kids’ confectionery brand recently introduced separate boy and girl variant of its product. While the blue coloured box meant for boys contained car figures as surprise toys, the pink one meant for girls contained dolls. Advertisements take this a step further by portraying women as weak and men as the ones taking all-important decisions. A major shampoo brand had recently launched a controversial media campaign for its men’s shampoo range asking men to stop doing ‘womanly’ things and reclaim their lives as ‘men’.
Some argue that product classifications exist because of consumer demand and advertisements merely portray consumer mindsets. What they forget is the influence it has on people and that brands also have a responsibility towards the society. Some brands have now started recognising this and are bringing in some level of gender sensitivity in their advertisements. For instance a Pril (dish washing detergent brand) TV commercial showed its okay for a husband to wash dishes. It will certainly take more than just a few brands realising this. What’s promising is that consumers are slowly becoming more aware and are expressing their views on social media against such insensitivity.
One of the most commonly used justification for investing in market growth is increased employment opportunities. While that’s true in most cases, what it most often leads to is unequal employment opportunities for men and women. As per the Global Gender Gap Index 2014 India has a 60% gap between men and women in economic participation. This wide gap keeps most women away from economic growth and therefore financially dependent on others. Women in the formal sector largely face issues like lack of employment opportunities, unequal pay, workplace safety, sexual harassment, lack of growth opportunities and inflexibility. A newspaper article recently highlighted hiring practices that discriminate against women and promote stereotypes. A search on a popular recruitment website show that most ‘female only’ ads are for sales executive, receptionist and telecaller positions. One ad also specified that the female candidate should be ‘presentable’ and ‘married’!
In the informal sector issues like exploitation, abuse and violation of basic rights are more rampant. A report on women workers in garment factories states that ‘approximately 60% of the factory workers have experienced some type of harassment at work, verbal/ physical abuse.’ A forbidden bonded labour practice in Tamil Nadu garment and textile industry, Sumangali, is still prevalent. Under this scheme, Dalit girls and women are employed as bonded labourers in garment factories against a promise of a lumpsum amount to be paid to their families for dowry. Until recently, major apparel brands and factory owners ignored this issue.
Discrimination has a cost and it’s unfair that the ones being discriminated against are paying for it. How long will this last? Perhaps not very long. As people become more aware and reject this discrimination, markets will listen and change!