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ActionAid India tells the story of India's Water Wives

By Ashee Sharma , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Advertising | December 03, 2015
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The Water Wives campaign by ActionAid India talks about gender inequality, the various forms in which it exists in Indian society, and the impact that socio-economic disparities have on it.

Unfortunate as it is, gender inequality is a pressing concern for societies worldwide even today. In developing countries such as ours, socio-economic disparities compound it further.

One of the many manifestations of gender inequality in India is polygamy. The issue has been discussed widely and social scientists attribute various religious-cultural reasons for it.

ActionAid India, an NGO that works towards the upliftment of marginalised people and communities, brings to light a different aspect of the problem with a new ad film titled The Water Wives. Conceptualised and executed by Dentsu Mama Lab, The Water Wives is a short film, created mainly for the digital medium.

Action Aid 'The Water Wives'

The term Water Wives (originally coined by the Open Magazine in an article published in April this year) is used in the ad to depict an extreme manifestation of patriarchy and coupled with poverty, the impact it has on the lives of women. According to ActionAid, in rural India, where water is a scarce resource, one of the reasons men marry multiple times is to have one more person to fetch water from places far away. The film aims to address the issue of gender inequality using this particular scenario.

Earlier this year, various news sites like CNN-IBN and Reuters reported that men in drought-stricken villages in Maharashtra were illegally marrying more than one woman, so that there was one more person to help fetch water for daily needs.

Abhilash Babu

Swati Bhattacharya

Speaking about the campaign, Abhilash Babu, senior manager, Communication, ActionAid India, says, "#WaterWives is a symbol and a symptom of a larger problem of women's subjugation, which exists everywhere -- in our homes, workplaces, and all around the world, wherever women are unpaid and unrecognised for their work."

Based on this belief, the creative brief that went out to the agency, informs Babu, was to clearly define what constitutes a woman's work. "With this campaign, we want to draw attention to the fact that generally a woman's work and her contribution to the home and society goes unrecognised because it is considered to be her duty," says Babu.

Swati Bhattacharya, head, Dentsu Mama Lab, adds, "While the film addresses inequality at various levels -- social, economic, and gender based inequality -- the idea is to recognise the unpaid care work that women do."

ActionAid India is an anti-poverty agency, working in India since 1972. Although it has been around for a long time now, Babu acknowledges that it is still not well-known and there is a need to build more awareness about the organisation and its work in India. This campaign has, therefore, been launched with the same objective, and targets urban and semi-urban middle class belonging to SEC A and B.

Action-oriented?

Suresh Eriyat, founder and creative director, Eeksaurus, finds the campaign well-executed, although he maintains that some statistics and highlights regarding ActionAid's activities and what it does to fight gender inequality, should have been included as it would have helped build the viewer's trust in the brand.

Suresh Eriyat

Jaideep Mahajan

Commenting on the concept, Eriyat says, "The idea is a bit far-fetched and though it has shock value, its appropriateness as a thought provoker is weak. Since it is based on a real story, authentication of that fact by stating where the menace exists would have made the film more believable." Eriyat quotes the Lifebuoy Gondappa Ad for the 'Help a child reach five' campaign to make his point. The ad not only informed viewers about reach and scale, but also helped the progress of the initiative by giving a real example of the mission being implemented in Thesgora village.

However, Eriyat thinks that if the campaign's objective was to evoke sympathy for women, then the film does the job. "But, is that what one should push towards? For achieving gender equality, asking men to sympathise with women is not going to make it work," he says.

While Jaideep Mahajan, national creative head at Rediffusion Y&R, appreciates the fact that advertisers are exploring different spaces to communicate an idea and the good old Indian story telling is finally making a comeback, this film is not an ideal example of the concept.

"The six-minute-long video begins with siblings doing what siblings do, with the boy behaving like a boy, and the girl being herself. It makes you think it's an ad about oppression of the girl child. After about 20 seconds, the man of the house comes home and behaves like a man of the house. You think it's an ad for female oppression (at this point, I look at the descriptor to know what this ad is for). A predictable cut to: the old man is marrying someone. A not-so-predictable cut to: to fetch water from a well and at this point you think this is an ad for water awareness," he quips.

According to Mahajan, the story is forced and the ad fails to deliver the key message. It leaves you thinking of what to feel or do. "In the end, it shows all the women being women of the house. And, you know this is not an ad that wants females to rise, or show any kind of female emancipation," he states.

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