New report on Nordic regulations to counteract sexist advertising

The Swedish Women’s Lobby has launched the report “Sexist advertisement in the Nordic countries”. The report contains an evaluation of regulations and their practical implementation to counteract sexist advertising. It was first presented in the Swedish parliament on September 21st.

Sexist advertising has been on the political agenda in the Nordic countries since the 1970s. In the course of this period, each Nordic country except Sweden introduced regulations in this field. Over time, there has been an exponential increase in the frequency of advertisements (overall) in addition to the digital development. Explicit and implicit Diversity messages in marketing communication is therefore seen a relevant topic.

The stereotypical portrayal of women and men in advertising is considered to present a problem for both the individual and society. For the individual, sexist advertising can lead to mental health problems. Advertisements containing beauty ideals or objectification can create distorted body image, increased self-objectification, lower self-confidence and even a reduced initiative or desire to lead. For a society that aspires to achieve gender equality as one of its values, it is considered crucial that gender stereotypes are counteracted in the media and advertising.

Ad Watch Campaing “Reklama”

Since 2013, the Swedish Women’s Lobby is challenging sexist advertising through the campaign Reklamera (Ad Watch). The purpose of Reklamera is to encourage people to react and show that there are many consumers who dislike the sexualisation of the public sphere. People can easily report any advertising they consider as sexist to the Reklamera campaign. This might include an insult of a person’s gender or general gender stereotyping. Advertisements are also regarded to be discriminatory when women or men are reduced to sex objects or when their bodies are used to attract attention to a service or product that is unrelated to the human body. The Swedish Women’s Lobby then reports the advertisement to the Swedish Advertising Ombudsman, contacts the company that has published the advertising and publishes information about the case on Social Media in order to publicly raise awareness.

Analysis of legislation and practical implementation

In collaboration with the Reklamér and Reklamere campaigns in Denmark and Norway respectively, the Swedish Women’s Lobby has analysed the content of Nordic regulations to counteract sexist advertising and how they are implemented. For each country, the research covered the following questions:

  • Are there laws against sexist advertising?
  • Does legislation clearly define “sexist advertising”?
  • Does legislation apply to those responsible for publishing the advertisements?
  • Has a government authority with supervisory responsibility been appointed?
  • Does the authority have the means to implement sanctions?
  • Have national efforts been made to raise awareness of the legislation and to enable the reporting of cases of sexist advertising?
  • Is the public aware of the legislation and/or is the possibility to report sexist advertisements being utilised?

For each country, the report also summarises key findings ‘in brief’, categorised in positive and negative categories.

The report concludes that although the Nordic countries are world leaders in many respects of gender equality, most countries in the region (with the exception of Iceland) still struggle with sexist advertisement. To a great extent, this is attributed to the fact that no clear punishment exists for sexist marketing.

The report aims to contribute to better regulations and more active work to combat sexist advertising and sexualisation of the public sphere. You can access the report here.

The Swedish Women’s Lobby is an umbrella organization for women’s organizations in Sweden. There are 43 member organizations. It is based on feminist grounds and works towards the full equal human rights of women. Visit their English website.

Ad Watch is a campaign against sexist advertising; follow them.