INDIA: Sexy Commercials Keep Women Vulnerable

AUSTIN SZABO WRITES – The hanging of four men convicted of rape and murder will do little to stem misogyny in India. The solution lies with the media and how it represents women.

From 1990 to 2008, the number of reported rapes in India more than doubled, according to official data. Unreported cases are thought to be much higher. Since the gang rape and subsequent murder of a young student in December, new laws and better policing have led to a higher number of reported rapes and prosecutions. The effort has barely made a difference: conviction rates remain dismal. The UN Human Right’s Chief has called rape in India a “national problem,” according to The Economist.

Against this backdrop, the death sentence for the four criminals elicited euphoric responses from the women standing outside the courtroom on Friday. As they began to applaud, many women’s rights activists understood that the ruling won’t stop violence against women in India. “The sad truth is that it is not a deterrent,” said Karuna Nundy, a Supreme Court litigator, to the New York Times

Despite new laws that are meant to crack down on rape in India, the underlying misogyny in Indian society impedes progress. The laws rarely affect a large portion of women who try to report their attacks. Most give up due to the long process. Completing a case could take up to eight years. Too long, said a victim who described the process as “wasting her life.”

Much more needs to be done than simply making the punishment for rape worse. Treating the symptoms of a problem will only help in the short term. The long term solution to India’s violence against women is to change the way women are perceived by Indians in the media.

For example, two separate studies published in Media Asia Quarterly have emphasized the content and effect of Indian TV commercials. According to a study by Mubarki, a quarter of TV commercials aired in India have sexual content, most involving women. This is in spite of a 1995 law banning commercials with a “derogatory” or “passive” image of women. Anuradha has shown that such commercials and commercials targeted at children “adhere to sex-role stereotypes presenting women as dependant, emotional, domestic…” This lack of human representation for women in commercials that, according to both studies, reinforce stereotypes to children, cannot continue.

Representing women equally in the media will be the first step to a society in which Indian women are not only safe from assault, but are treated with dignity.

For more information, please visit:

Anuradha. (2012). Gender Stereotyping in Television Commercials Aimed at Children in India. Media Asia and Asian Communication Quarterly, 39 (4), 209-215.

Mubarki, M. A. (2012). Sexual Content in Indian TV Commercials. Media Asia and Asian Communication Quarterly, 39 (4), 191-198.

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