I had just returned from office and had resumed my usual place on the carpet in front of the heater; the TV was turned on at full volume so my beloved mom (now cozy in the recliner) can listen to the news from every nook and corner of the house; the cats were snug in their places; I had my mug of tea and was thoroughly enjoying the pleasant leisure; it was just another evening after work. I do not really focus on the news too much for various reasons however, advertisements are a whole other story. Seeing as the jingles are designed in a manner so that they stay on your mind and even if you do not know what the advert is about, you still know the music it plays. Just like that, I was thumbing through a possible next read when I heard myself repeat after the TV, “dus feesad se hogi meri baiti ki shadi – dus feesad se hogi mera baitay ki taleem”. This translates to, “another 10% will enable me to marry off my daughter, another 10% will enable me to educate my son”! As I ran over the words in my minds, I was utterly bewildered. Opening my laptop to YouTube, I immediately searched for these exact lines to locate the advertisement, for my mom could only tell me that it was advertising a specific brand of fertilizer that will increase the farmers yield by 10% (this claim, interestingly enough, as I found out upon further research, comes with some fine text and disclaimers). It was difficult to locate but I finally found it and you can view it for yourself here. The advertisement belonged to Fatima Group which also includes Pakarab Fertilizers Limited and Fatima Fertilizer Company Limited. The advertisement was promoting the products, Nitrogen, NP and CAN that belong to these companies, and thus this open letter is addressed primarily to them.
If you haven’t seen the advertisement, you might be thinking what provoked me. However, if you only focus on the tagline – , “dus feesad se hogi meri baiti ki shadi – dus feesad se hogi mera baitay ki taleem”. meaning “another 10% will enable me to marry off my daughter, another 10% will enable me to educate my son” – you will understand my fury. I took offence to the fact that in this day and age, a company, rather a consortium of companies, are putting out an advert that is basically telling their target market, the farmers, that the additional 10% of crop production will allow them to marry off their daughter AND educate their son? An advert that is emotionally blackmailing a whole society, playing on a cultural backwardness due to which this same society is already drowning in stereotypes? I wonder – companies with turnovers in millions, couldn’t think twice before putting out an advert with such an obvious gender bias? Well actually, the real question is – they couldn’t or they wouldn’t? And here lies our true plight.
A bunch of women can ride their bikes all day long and refuse to cook a meal for their husbands all they want, it is never going to make a difference. Why? Because while girls are out riding their bikes in the capital city in the name of ending patriarchy, there are corporations such as those within the Fatima Group that are bent upon enforcing exactly these mindsets, the unconscious bias, the gender stereotyping!
Let us analyze, shall we? This advertisement was meant for farmers and/or agriculturists (although I am pretty sure just from the setup of the advert that it was just farmers because who else can you fool with this outrageous tagline). If it was intended at the farmers, what message is being conveyed that if there is an extra 10% you can marry off your daughter – in other words – get rid of the burden? What if that is not what the daughter wants and how is this choice not accounted for within the advert? What if she wants you to spend the extra 10% on her education? Why is this aspect overlooked? If I were a farmer with a daughter and a brain, I would certainly believe that the company was trying to use this fact and our damned stereotypes to blackmail me into buying their product. Based on this version alone, the product should be banned. How is that not wrong? I am not shocked though, in hindsight, having taken a deeper look into the Fatima Group to find that there is just one female in the board of directors of these companies. It is this exact status quo that needs to change.
With that said, there are other concerns, if none as grave as the previous one. What about Corporate Social Responsibility that the group appears to hold dear? Under the head of Integrity, the Company claims, “We respect the dignity and rights of individuals and groups assuring that our judgments are free from discrimination and biases”. I respectfully beg to differ. And what about, gender stereotyping and an unconscious bias? Are we really that far gone that we do not, as a nation, realize the importance of these integral concepts?
The Committee of Advertising Practice in the UK, from 14th June 2019 onwards, has decided to ban all advertisements that present a gender stereotype that is “likely to cause harm or wise spread offence”. And according to a joint study conducted by JWT and Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, 85% of the women said that they were offended by stereotypical depictions in adverts. Of course, these studies were conducted in the West, because why not? The irony is, we want to follow the west when they hang someone for a crime – we want to have a handsome PM because we believe Justin Trudeau is handsome, but when it comes to a real issue, we just crawl back into the cocoon of convenience sheltering it with faux religiousness. What a pitiful state!
If we do not soon make the switch from “dus feesad se hogi meri baiti ki shadi” to “dus feesad se hogi meri baiti ki taleem”, social progress or any progress for that matter, will be a dream for this country just like it has been for the past many years.