PCW calls for media content that empower women amid the #PandemicEffect 

The Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) calls on all brands and advertising agencies to create content that empowers women, especially during these challenging times when Juanas experience the #PandemicEffect that goes beyond physical attributes. 

In a video ad released by an aesthetic clinic, a woman is seen sitting on a couch while watching TV and her physical appearance changes as she continues hearing distressing news related to COVID-19. She gains weight, gets acne,  and grows hair in different parts of her body. 

The PCW acknowledges that the aesthetic clinic already took down the post and admitted that indeed, it is “insensitive and upsetting.” The ad agency behind it also took accountability for the ad and apologized to people who were hurt. 

Both entities promised to learn from this and to do better. We really hope that they will. 

Before we lay down the ways forward, the PCW takes this as an opportunity to highlight important points on the real #PandemicEffect and the role of the media in presenting it. 

Women have been carrying heavy and multiple burdens since the pandemic began—unpaid care work, violence in the home, online sexual harassment, unemployment, to name a few. Many women are working from home while at the same time taking care of their family and the household. In reality, some women do not even have the luxury of time to linger on the couch watching television. 

With these difficulties, it would be more kind and helpful if they see advertisements that lift them up rather than pressure them into conforming to subjective beauty standards — which may be the least of their priorities now. It is true that many people, women and men alike, experience changes in their body during the pandemic with all the stress and quarantine measures that come with it and we will not deny that here. However, there is a thin line between showing reality and capitalizing on the insecurities that come with it. We can be relatable but sensitive at the same time. We must remember that women facing depression and anxiety are already downed by the weight of mental and/or physical struggles. We can help spark hope amidst this pandemic by lifting each other instead.

There is nothing wrong with endorsing a brand’s products, especially because under the principle of body autonomy, women have their freedom when it comes to changing or enhancing their physical traits. However, promoting these products can be done in a more sensitive, reassuring, decent, and tasteful way. 

Moving forward, we call on brands and ad agencies to reassess the values they want to perpetuate and be guided by existing guidelines. Worth noting is the Code of Ethics by the AD Standards Council, a non-stock, non-profit organization which aims to promote truth and fairness in advertising through self-regulation of advertising content. Article IV, Section 1, paragraph a of its Code of Ethics states that “Advertisements shall not directly or indirectly disparage, ridicule, criticize, or attack any natural or juridical person, groups of persons, or any sector of society, especially on the basis of gender, social or economic class, religion, ethnicity, race, or nationality.” Moreover, Article II, Section 1, paragraph a, provides that “Advertisements must be honest, truthful, accurate, and created for the benefit of the consumer and the general public.”

The Magna Carta of Women also recognizes the role of media, films and advertisements included, in upholding the dignity of women, and hence, providing for the non-discriminatory and non-derogatory portrayal of women in any form of media.

To this goal, the Media and Gender Equality Committee released the Gender-Fair Media Guidebook. We encourage our partners in the media industry to revisit the checklist when assessing communication materials, including advertisements, including the following: ensuring gender-fair and empowering content; non-discriminatory and non-derogatory portrayal of women; balanced representation of men and women;  avoiding gender stereotypes; use of non-sexist language; and gender fairness in the internet and social media. From the brainstorming of ideas, scriptwriting, development of the storyboard, production, and even post-production, ask yourselves, “Does this promote women’s empowerment”, “Does it consider or respect women’s rights?”, “Does it avoid associating women and men with certain products or service categories?”, “Does it challenge stereotypical and rigid gender roles of women and men at home and at work?”, among others. 

From this learning curve, we look forward to seeing materials that elevate women. Those that show how they rise above the challenges during the pandemic, how they manage their multiple responsibilities, how they become beacons of hope to others, how they lead public and private initiatives in response to COVID-19, and how they become beautiful by empowering themselves, other Juanas, their families, and their communities. 

Lastly, and this is just a reiteration, women can be their own kind of beautiful. Let us celebrate the diverse and unique beauty of women of all shapes, sizes, and color. Let us not dictate standards on them and thus put more pressures than what they are already enduring as the #PandemicEffect. Let us make content that goes viral because its inspiring message becomes contagious — it makes a woman believe in herself. Let us not define their being by their physicality because right now, beauty is shining, thriving, surviving, and rising above, despite the pandemic’s effect.