Why we need to make things shEqual for women in adverts

Too often in advertising women are stereotyped, sexualised and portrayed in limiting or supporting roles. They’re defined by their relationship to men as wives, mothers, daughters, girlfriends or conquests as opposed to fully-fleshed out individuals.

That’s if they appear in ads at all. Women of colour, with a disability, Indigenous Australian women, women on low incomes, trans women and women of diverse sexualities and gender identities are largely ignored.

'Who couldn't cook well in a kitchen like this', 1950s. A couple happily preparing a roast. An advertisement for the paint company Robbialac. (Photo by Museum of London/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
"Who couldn't cook well in a kitchen like this?" read the tagline for this 1950s advertisement for the paint company Robbialac. Photo: Getty Images.

It’s a shame that 50 per cent of consumers that these ads are trying to sell things to are misrepresented or unacknowledged. But the impact goes further than that.

Research shows these portrayals negatively affect women’s physical and mental health, as well as contributing to a society that condones and excuses violence against women — a society where one in three Australian women over the age of 15 have experienced physical or sexual violence.

Something has to change which is why Women’s Health Victoria (WHV) created shEqual, a campaign that aims to encourage the advertising industry to represent and celebrate all people regardless of their gender and background.


Dianne Hill, CEO of WHV tells Yahoo Lifestyle that the organisation is proud to be launching shEqual.

“As the first initiative in Australia to bring the ad industry together with experts in gender equality, shEqual will positively transform Australia’s advertising landscape,” she says.

“We hope shEqual will start a national conversation about how advertising can be a powerful force for driving gender equality and ending violence against women,” she adds.

Dianne looks forward to seeing advertising agencies and brands taking the shEqual pledge and committing to changing the advertising they produce, and how they do business.

“Advertising equality is a benefit to our community and a win for business,” she explains.

shEqual has recruited legendary social commentator, Jane Caro AM, to host a virtual launch event that’ll feature big names from the ad world such as Chris Howatson, CEO of CHE Proximity, Priya Patel, Managing Director of DDB Sydney and Martin Cowie, Chief of People at OMD Australia.

The shEqual online launch takes place from 12 – 1 pm on Monday, November 23 via Zoom; you can register here.

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