Ad Watch is a campaign that urge people to act and react against sexist and gender stereotypical advertising. We advocate for legislation against sexist advertising and work to put pressure on companies, the advertising industry and politicians.
The purpose of the campaign is to increase knowledge on the effects of sexist advertising and to provide a channel for people to act, react and discuss. You can easily report sexist ads to Ad Watch by sending a photo of it to our Facebook page or by using the hashtag #reklamera in social media. We report it to the Swedish Advertising Ombudsman, publish the report in our social media platforms, and contact the company behind the ad.
During the summer of 2013, we carried out a survey about the effects of commercial advertising on the mental health of young men and women (ages 13-30). 1000 young women and men from all over Sweden participated in the survey. The results show that many girls are negatively affected by ads.
Nine out of ten female respondents answered that advertising makes them want to change something about themselves, and that ads have made them feel bad about their looks and/or their weight. Half of the girls said that they are affected by it every day or every week. Three out of ten male respondents answered that they have felt bad about their looks and/or their weight due to sexist ads.
WHY IS SEXIST ADVERTISING A PROBLEM?
We are exposed to commercial advertising everywhere in our everyday life. Images with stereotypical gender roles surround us and create a narrow idea of how women and men should act and what they should look like. In general, men are portrayed as strong, active and powerful and are usually fully dressed, while women are portrayed as passive, weak, sexualized and naked – and as bait for commercial purposes.
Stereotypical images of men and women have vast consequences for individuals and for society. They legitimize and increase the power structure between the sexes and are an obstacle for reaching gender equality.
Sexist advertising is also a public health issue. Unnatural ideals and objectification of women can lead to distorted body image, low self-esteem and eating disorders.
It is impossible to be in public spaces without being exposed to objectifying and sexualizing ads. This is an obstacle for reaching gender equality and affects women’s empowerment; it is an issue of democracy.
An active citizenship and the possibility to affect one’s own life are fundamental principles in Swedish gender equality politics. The effects of sexist advertising and the lack of sanctions against it, do not correspond to these principles, nor to the international agreements that the Swedish government has ratified. Article five in the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) states: “States Parties shall take all appropriate measures: (a) To modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women;”. It is also stated in the Beijing Platform for Action that all UN member states ought to: “promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media.”
SEXIST ADs today
Sexist ads can currently exist legally in Sweden and companies are free from sanctions. This situation is unique amongst the Nordic countries; while all other Nordic countries have legislation against sexist advertising, Sweden has a self-regulative system. The Swedish Advertising Ombudsman is a self-regulation organization founded by the advertising industry itself. The Advertising ombudsman receive approximately 500 reports every year and almost half of them concern sexist ads. The foundation cannot give any economic sanctions or interrupt campaigns, their only tool is so called “naming and shaming”.
In 2006-2008, the Swedish Government carried out a public investigaiton on the issue of gender stereotypical advertising. The investigation concluded that legislation is needed in order to improve gender equality between men and women. A legislation proposition was presented in 2008 (SOU2008:5). The Swedish government chose to go against the recommendations with the justification that legislation would be a threat to the freedom of speech. Since then nothing has happened.
The Swedish Women’s Lobby takes this very seriously. It should not be possible to hide behind the freedom of speech when acting against human rights. The freedom of speech exists to protect opinions, not to protect commercial interests. Sweden has succesfully been able to legislate against tobacco, alcohol and child commercials. Sexist ads should not be an exception.
It is time to act and react. It is time for politicians to address the issue of sexism in advertising, sexualisation of the public sphere and to make sure that companies and the industry are helt responsible.
SEXIST ADVERTISEMENT IN THE NORDIC COUNTRIES
In collaboration with the Reklamér and Reklamere campaigns in Denmark and Norway, the Swedish Women’s Lobby has analysed the Nordic regulations to counteract sexist and gender stereotypical advertising and how the regulations are implemented. The conclusions are presented in the report “Sexist advertisement in the Nordic countries – An evaluation of regulations and implementation”.
In the report, we present recommendations to the Nordic countries on how to improve current regulations. The Swedish Government are urged to introduce a law against gender stereotypical advertising.
Read the full report here.