When ‘Woman Empowerment’ became the next big thing!

How many of us have seen a surge of brands celebrating the woman in the recent past? Offering her benefits, personal attention and promotions that make the average male customer feel deprived. Simply recognizing that women disproportionately lead buying decisions. So from a few brands that were anyway woman-centric, a slew of brands & concepts have emerged that elevate the woman’s status.

Now of course there are misogynists who believe that if women demand equality, then there is no need to lift them from any ‘down in the dumps’ status. Perhaps they were the same voices of dissent against the “Women’s Reservation Bill’ too. Honestly the feminists who can stand up to men on an equal footing, are niche. However, entirely new armies of women who believe in liberation are emerging. And many have 2 surprising & significant stories that follow them:

1.    They are often supported and partnered by their spouses/male authority in the family

2.    They retain their femininity even as they find their voice

Isn’t it great then, that women don’t have to turn into a men to find their space! And they comfortably adjust to this new position of strength, while taking the society along with them! A beautiful case of Earth Mother & Aphrodite co-existing.

HOW COME?

Emancipation is often read as freedom from bondage… misunderstood as discrimination or then being tied down by norms crafted by men and/or  powerful archetypes in society. While in many cases it may be so, there are notable aspects of empowerment that are driven by an ‘inner catharsis’. In reality empowerment often finds release in two worlds: the inner world and outer world, where the former truly lets the woman stay woman: feminine & strong

Some brands that have created pretty stories in these two worlds strike a good balance…while some others just plain & simple, liberate. Profits abound in both worlds, but it’s quite easy to decode what foments brand longevity.

ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT:

PRIYADARSHINI TAXI SERVICE ~ Mumbai roads over 2-3 years, has seen some new colors dotting the traditional yellow & black taxis. The color PINK!!! More just to mark the entry of women drivers into a rough male bastion. Private taxis driven by women opened up a new avenue for many middle & lower middle class homes to supplement their family income. Each driver earns somewhere between Rs 10,000 to Rs 12,000 a month & the stares of amusement and/or admiration merely acts as a confidence booster. She also gets to take her vehicle home, which increases her prestige among family & friends.

What’s win-win of course is if one can expand business while empowering women. Like Unilever’s Project Shakti promoting rural micro-enterprise led by women entrepreneurs. Now replicated in Bangladesh & Sri Lanka as Project Joyeeta & Saubhagya. Lijjat & Amul are stable growing brands, created by giving the woman economic power.

SOCIAL EMPOWERMENT:

HERO HONDA PLEASURE ~ Instead of the usual heavy metal, Pleasure is made from lightweight industrial plastic. While most Indian scooters are traditionally kick-start, Pleasure has an ignition key. Easy to put on and take off its parking stand, it comes in a range of colors including light purple, green and red.

But what’s interesting are the showrooms exclusively for women. ‘Just 4 Her’ is staffed entirely by young saleswomen and intended to invite & make women customers feel comfortable. The best part of course is their campaign, which summarizes Hero Honda Pleasure’s new take on social dos & don’ts with the tagline, “Why should boys have all the fun!”.

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Not to be outdone, even recruitment companies are rising to the new call. ‘Naukri for women’, is an exclusive job site (from Naukri.com) dedicated to place women.

FLIPSIDE: It isn’t all hunky dory however. Key findings of the TrueCar.com study based on over 13 million actual vehicle registrations in the US (over 2 years),  claimed that: The brand with the highest percentage of female registrations was Kia (45.8%), followed by Suzuki (44.2%) and Mini (43.9%).  There were 10 total makes with female ratio of over 42%, including Subaru, Hyundai and Volvo, which are all brands known for safety and/or value.

However most media reports that shared the data took pot shots almost admonishing the brands for being the choice of women. Strange given that revenues most definitely came from either the womens’ wallets or due to their heavy influence!!!

PHYSICAL EMPOWERMENT:

i-PILL ~ Launch of i-Pill, an emergency contraceptive pill changed some of the rules that defined a woman’s pre-marital & married life, to give her a sense of security. Of course it has it’s own veiled drawbacks and is not to be substituted for a reckless lifestyle. But when used with utter prudence it gives a sense of freedom, in the event of any slip-up that may cost the woman dear.

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I must add though, that the Government initiative ‘Goli ke Humjoli’ (promoting birth control pills), really marked a new beginning for a woman more than 2 decades ago. It enabled her gain power or control over what is even today the biggest or only chink in the feminine form: her vulnerable body.

NIKE FOUNDATION’S ‘GIRL EFFECT’ ~ Nike has been proactive from 1995 when it seemed to push for women in sport right upto 2004 when it created the Nike Foundation, which invests in health, education, and leadership programs for adolescent girls in the developing world. So far, it has distributed close to $100 million.

In 2008, it launched The Girl Effect. It tells the story of girls creating a ripple impact of social and economic change on their families, communities and nations if they stay physically healthy and empowered. Girl champions around the globe drive the work of the ‘Girl Effect’.

1995: If you let me Play

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2008: The Girl Effect

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EMOTIONAL EMPOWERMENT:

DOVE REAL BEAUTY ~ Need I say more!! It has been the most surprising business focused & beauty-enhancing brand, which has enabled many women redefine beauty for themselves….By being comfortable in their skin & by elevating their self-esteem. Thereby setting themselves free from the pressures of looking botox-ed and perfect.

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PAMPERS ~ Sometimes emotional empowerment also comes from knowing that in a small way one is contributing to the less privileged. And this initiative from P&G, clearly let the woman’s maternal instinct extend it’s halo to many other children from world-over. Of course it does play on the woman’s heart to build bottomline. But does that matter? After all she does feel great thanks to the brand.

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CULTURAL EMPOWERMENT:

This one was tough and there were more disempowering stories I found, especially with programs that flood our entertainment channels.

Like Colors’ Na Aana Iss Desh Laado, has this rustic godmother, who perpetuates the feudal legacy, wants all women to have a male heir & kills the girl child. Laali, a 19-year-old from Zee’s Agle Janam Mohe Bitiya Hi Kijo, is sold to a rich Thakur, by her mother, so she can give an heir to his married son. Star Plus, has Pratigya, where the protagonist’s brother-in-law asks his wife to abort his child because she has a dark complexion??!! Didn’t he see her at the wedding? For Aastha in Sony’s Godh Bharai, though her husband is impotent, she decides to cover up by claiming she is infertile.

So is there a good side to this at all? I’d say all brands/products that help break the regressive stereotypes, are pretty much here. Like Allen Solly Women’s Work Wear, Ready-to-Eat/Cook brands,  Travel groups like ‘Woman on Clouds’ that urge women across ages to leave their families without guilt for short vacations across the world….even a Lebanese movie ‘Caramel’ with an empowering theme for conservative Lebanon & incidentally also directed by a woman.

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All of the above brands or concepts have raked in the millions. And as Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank says, “Gender equality is smart economics”

PN Vasanti, director, Centre for Media Studies however says, “When you talk of women’s empowerment you need to consider five components:
1.    Their sense of self-worth
2.    Their right to determine choices
3.    Their right to have access to opportunities and resources
4.    Power to control their own lives, both within and outside the home, and
5.    Ability to influence the direction of change – to create a more just social and economic order, nationally and internationally”.

So here are some successful brands/campaigns… Would love to hear your views on whether they really empower or just use it as a convenient execution diversion (series of 30 sec TVCs) or play up a weak spot or then ride a popular wave.

1.    DeBeers – Women of the world raise your right hand

2.    Fair & Lovely

3.    Cosmopolitan Magazine

4.    Femina

5.    ICICI Prudential Life – Jeethay Raho

What do you think?

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4 Comments

  1. Natasha Mistry |

    This is cool stuff. Most brands don’t travel the full mile & the women empowerment sagas are left half way. Some others find refuge in merely mentioning it in advertising….I think Whirlpool while it played up the mother stereotype a bit much came through as an empowering product. They managed to go through with it.
    I believe both Gwyneth Paltrow and Teri Hatcher of Desperate Housewives fame have their websites targeting women. Teri’s titled ‘gethatched.com’ gives tips…to women on how keep looking and feeling great

  2. This is quite evident in the Micro-finance Industry where largely this is driven by Women Self Help Groups ( SHG ).This has transformed quite a lot of people’s lives at the bottom of the pyramid and bringing about a sea-change at the grass root . One of the serious things that brands or organizations should do is to see how to leverage the time of millions of women who are talented but get by passed as just housewives or as home-makers in this country and get them to contribute effectively though they might work out of home …

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