Challenging harmful gender norms
Outdated social norms and stereotypes can prevent women from achieving their full potential. By working with our brands, throughout our value chain, and with partners across industry and society, we aim to challenge harmful gender norms and empower women.
Some of the strongest forces behind persistent gender gaps are harmful social norms and stereotypes that limit expectations of what women can or should do. These barriers discriminate against women. They are all around us, and they are deeply ingrained.
What's more, these outdated norms are holding back the global economic growth and social progress that will come from women's empowerment and gender equality - the growth and progress that are at the heart of the UN's sustainable development goals. The UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Women in 2017 concluded: “Changing norms should be at the top of the 2030 Agenda”. We agree.
We want to use our influence, insight and expertise to challenge these adverse social norms and gender stereotypes - in our business, and in society at large. It’s a central element of our Opportunities for Women strategy, which also embraces access to rights, skills, resources and jobs, and livelihoods across our full value chain - including through Advancing diversity and inclusion in our own business. And we believe that challenging those social norms can have a transformational impact.
How we’re challenging social norms
Our strategy aims to drive change in four main ways:
- by using our influence as one of the world’s biggest advertisers – not just to change the way we market our own products, but also to advocate and partner for change across the industry
- by building a diverse business and value chain, in which women are empowered and act as role models for change
- by developing sustainable living brands that are progressing gender equality and women´s empowerment
- and by ensuring, in our business and through our programmes, that everyone, including men, is part of the movement to build positive cultural change.
Our vision of freedom
In all this work, we’re guided by our vision (PDF | 7MB) of a world in which every woman and girl can create the kind of life she wishes to lead, unconstrained by harmful norms and stereotypes. And a world in which men, too, are free from the confines of adverse social norms and stereotypes of manhood and masculinity.
That's also a world in which economies are growing and creating opportunities for men and women alike. One in which people - and our business - can flourish.
Our definition of gender
We share the definition of gender used by the World Health Organization (WHO). Gender refers to the socially constructed characteristics of women and men – such as norms, roles and relationships of and between groups of women and men. It varies from society to society and can be changed.
For a fuller definition, see the World Health Organization.
Unstereotype: driving change
We're convinced that business generally − including ours − can help change consumer behaviour and challenge social norms. That means changing the images we see, and the words we use, so we reflect the real aspirations, achievements and interests of women and men alike. Our Unstereotype initiative plays a vital role in this.
Why we’re unstereotyping our advertising – & calling on others to join us
Aline Santos is our Executive Vice President of Global Marketing and our Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer.
“The Unstereotype journey at Unilever began in 2016. We’re one of the world’s largest advertisers and we recognise the responsibility we have when it comes to the portrayal of gender norms around the world. That’s why back then, we took a close look at thousands of ads globally across different industries and found some shocking results:
- just 3% of industry advertising featured women in leadership roles
- only 2% showed women as intelligent, and
- only 0.3% portrayed women as having a sense of humour.
So it was no surprise that 40% of women were saying, ‘I do not relate at all to the women I see in adverts.’
This was a galvanizing moment for us and we decided to act. First on our own, launching Unstereotype as a Unilever company-wide commitment to advance portrayals of women and men in our advertising. Then in 2017 we joined UN Women when they launched the Unstereotype Alliance – bringing the whole industry together to use the power of advertising to help shape perceptions that reflect realistic and unstereotypical portrayals of all people. Unilever is a Vice Chair of the Alliance, helping to develop tools and systems to help any company across any geography unstereotype its workplace and branded communications.
Unstereotype is part of our business strategy, our vision and our purpose. It’s not an ad-hoc project or a few campaigns. Rather, it’s a systemic approach integrated by all brands and marketing teams as well as agency partners. It’s both the right thing to do and good for business, so it has huge buy-in from teams worldwide. We know from testing thousands of ads that progressive advertising creates 25% more branded impact and is also 16% more relevant, 21% more credible and can drive purchase intent by 18%.
Our brands are reporting the business case for change too. Take Brooke Bond Red Label, one of our tea brands. Its brand communications model helps tackle social taboos by starting a conversation on a controversial topic over a cup of tea. For example, in India, Brooke Bond created 6 Pack, India’s first transgender band which is spreading the message of inclusiveness and encouraging people to become more accepting. Sales in the countries that have adopted the new brand communications model are growing three times faster than those who are yet to adopt it.”
Our brands: leading the way on Unstereotype
Through our brands, we have the chance to reach billions of people every day. That gives us an enormous opportunity to challenge stereotypes – and some of our biggest brands are leading the way.
WHEEL: fresh thinking on gender roles
Our Wheel fabric solutions brand reaches more than 150 million low-income households in South Asia each year − and it’s inspired by fresh thinking as well as fresh clothes. The brand aims to use its communications to tackle deep-rooted societal conditioning when it comes to gender roles and bringing in fresh thinking.
Brooke Bond: tackling tensions globally
Beginning with its prize-winning campaign featuring 6 Pack – India’s first transgender band – Brooke Bond has continued to share authentic portrayals of people, tackling taboo topics and breaking down stereotypes to spark debate and encourage people to bond over a cup of tea. Focusing on topics such as dwarfism, homosexuality and mental health, Brooke Bond continues to address stereotypes in countries including Canada, Russia, Pakistan and South Africa, by identifying and speaking out about locally relevant tensions and societal prejudices.
In 2018, Brooke Bond launched the second edition of its celebrated Cannes Grand Prix-winning 6 Pack Band. Aiming to break stereotypes around mental health by featuring six special needs teenagers, Brooke Bond focuses on their musical abilities rather than the stereotypical focus on their disabilities.
Dove #MyBeautyMySay: real women, real stories
Young people reached via the Dove Self-Esteem Project
Dove’s #MyBeautyMySay campaign features stories of amazing women who stand up for their own beauty, refusing to let comments about their looks hold them back. Find out more about #MyBeautyMySay or watch the video.
Dove has a long history of supporting self-esteem. Since 2004, the Dove Self-Esteem Project has reached more than 35 million young people around the world with body confidence and self-esteem education − and it aims to reach 40 million by 2020.
The brand's commitment to making beauty a source of confidence, rather than anxiety, is reflected in its global launch in 2018 of a No Digital Distortion Mark across all branded content, letting women know that the image they see has not been digitally altered to fit someone else's ideals of what beauty is.
Sunsilk: Hijab Recharge
A young taekwondo athlete who is also a proud hijab wearer helps Sunsilk continue to provide unstereotypical role models, with its new range for hijab wearers called Hijab Recharge. Sunsilk positions her as a source of inspiration, not only for hijab wearers but also for other girls who want to challenge social norms and craft their own exploration journey. See the Sunsilk Hijab video.
Opening up possibilities for women and girls is at the heart of Sunsilk's brand purpose. Sunsilk has partnered with the NGO Girl Rising to create the Explore More Toolkit, with a curriculum designed to help young people explore their horizons. Find out more in Enhancing entrepreneurial and life skills through our brands.
Of women have suffered physical or sexual violence in their lifetime
One in three women worldwide experience sexual or physical violence.1 Recognising that in India mothers in Tamil Nadu were concerned about their daughters’ safety outside the home, our Hamam soap launched the #GoSafeOutside campaign, encouraging girls to learn traditional Indian martial arts and breaking the stereotype that they cannot defend themselves.
Sunlight: Life Over Chores
Vietnamese society still places the burden of running the household on the shoulders of women, who pressure themselves to be dedicated home makers, sacrificing meaningful moments to finish their daily chores.
With the help of key opinion formers and celebrities, our Sunlight home hygiene brand developed its Life over Chores initiative to kick start social debate about how women can have an enriching and fulfilling life beyond chores. Life over Chores includes a video, workshops and social media.
LUX: inspiring women to unlock creativity
Lux aims to inspire women to defy judgements and to dare to express their femininity unapologetically. At times, the more effort women put into looking beautiful, the more they tend to be judged. Lux is working with the creative and entertainment industries − which have an important role to play in shaping judgements on women − to address this assumption.
The brand is recognising and supporting women in the entertainment and creative industries who rise above judgements and challenge the stereotypes. In India, Lux tapped into the pop-culture of movies by launching the Lux Golden Rose awards, Bollywood’s first and only all-women’s awards show to celebrate women who boldly dare to express their femininity. Similarly, in Indonesia, Lux is working with the music industry and launched the Lux Sound of Women Awards, the first women-only music award show that recognises women who dare to express themselves unapologetically.
Tackling the stereotypes that hold men back too
Men can also face restrictive stereotypes − and some of our biggest brands are finding ways to help evolve traditional gender norms.
Dove Men+Care, for example, aims to celebrate and expand men's opportunities to take on caring roles − and the brand advocates policy changes to support them. Its #DearFutureDads campaign, launched in June 2018, raises awareness of the importance of paternity leave.
The brand has also partnered with Promundo, a global NGO with expertise in engaging men and boys in promoting gender equality, to launch the Helping Dads Care report, a pioneering study which looked at the attitudes and behaviours around paternity leave.
Dove Men+Care developed a digital Paternity Leave Resources hub on dove.com with resources for dads and their networks, and in 2019 launched a Pledge for Paternity Leave in the US so that dads, allies, and business leaders can all show their support for paternity leave. Together, these efforts highlight the benefits of paternity leave and demonstrate its positive impact on society in both a global and local context.
Through the power of communications, brands can shift culture, and it's our social duty to support and drive positive change. We are inviting like-minded collaborators – corporations, NGOs, and individuals - to join us on our journey to champion paternity leave. Together we aim to create a world where fathers are empowered to take paternity leave and where the benefits are felt at home, at work and in society.Molly Kennedy, our Senior Global Brand Manager for Dove Men+Care
Of men have been told that ‘real men’ should behave in a certain way
AXE is committed to fighting the limitations of harmful masculine stereotypes and liberating men from the labels and pressures that are holding them back from being their most attractive selves.
Research with AXE’s global partner, Promundo, found that over 57% of guys have been told that ‘real men’ should behave a certain way. Axe believes there’s no one way to be attractive, and wants to inspire young men to define what it means to be a man for themselves. Through a global partnership with youth charity Ditch the Label, AXE has so far supported over 1.3m young people through online support and resources.
Moving an industry – the Unstereotype Alliance
Of course, any single business can only reach so far in tackling stereotypes that ail the industry and society. To make an impact at greater scale, we need everyone to embrace it.
In 2017, at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, we joined forces with UN Women to launch the Unstereotype Alliance, which brings together industry leaders across creative, marketing and media to take collective, urgent action in eliminating outdated stereotypes in advertising and driving long-term, positive cultural change.
The Unstereotype Alliance
The Unstereotype Alliance is a thought and action platform that uses advertising as a force for good to drive positive change. It seeks to eradicate harmful gender-based stereotypes.
The alliance is focused on empowering women in all their diversity (race, class, age, ability, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, language, education, etc) and addressing harmful masculinities to help create a gender equal world.www.unstereotypealliance.org/en
We believe this is a chance to make a real difference at an industry level – and to address some of the barriers that limit people’s potential. By 2018, 34 global companies had joined the Alliance.
Stereotypes reflect deep-rooted ideas of femininity and masculinity. Negative, diminished conceptions of women and girls are one of the greatest barriers for gender equality and we need to tackle and change those images wherever they appear. Advertising is a particularly powerful driver to change perceptions and impact social norms. UN Women is excited to partner with the foremost industry shapers in this Alliance to challenge and advance the ways women are represented in this field.Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women
How unpaid work holds women back
Uplift in output − if women’s unpaid care work became paid
Laundry, cooking, cleaning, collecting water and caring for people – in some parts of the world, these unpaid tasks in the home can take up to six hours a day. They’re the necessities of life, and we should all be responsible for them. But all too often, they are done disproportionately by women and girls. Unpaid work like this is hampering women’s access to opportunities outside the home, holding individuals back and contributing to the gender gap.
If women’s unpaid care work were compensated at a rate roughly equal to minimum wage, this would add about $10 trillion to global economic output (around 13% of global GDP).2 Globally, women spend between two and 10 times longer than men on household chores like laundry, cleaning and cooking, and caring for children and family members.
So how can we help change this gender norm? We don’t pretend complex issues like this can be solved by one business, with one initiative. But making people think about the status quo can be a first step to challenging it, if it isn’t fair. And by putting our brands at the centre of the change we want to create, we’ll keep building the consumer trust we need to grow our business.
Unfair & unpaid
Katja Freiwald, our Director of Global Partnerships and Advocacy for Women’s Empowerment and Livelihoods, explains the potential she sees in rebalancing unpaid work.
“Personally, the topic of unpaid care work is very present for me, having returned from maternity leave and trying to balance work and family life. Being a mother has made me realise that the inequitable distribution of unpaid care and domestic work is probably linked to the most deeply ingrained social norms in societies across the world.
There’s enough evidence that addressing this issue will play a big part in unlocking (PDF | 203KB) true economic empowerment for women. For Unilever, unpaid care work is a priority area given that it directly impacts women every day in our workplace, supply chain and distribution network, as well as our consumers.
Unilever is taking its responsibility towards its own employees seriously, for example through progressive diversity and inclusion policies. What I’m even more excited about is how we can leverage the power of our business and brands to address this issue.”
How laundry brands are shifting attitudes on unpaid work
Water infrastructure systems improved and 37,000 women and girls reached
We believe our laundry and other Home Care brands have a big part to play in helping to recognise, reduce and redistribute the amount of time spent by women and girls on household chores. One example is WE-Care − a three-year partnership between Surf and Oxfam that works to enable women to have more choice over how they spend their time, and greater opportunity to claim their rights and engage in social, personal, economic and political activity.
Communications are key to getting the message across: the programme involves using different channels as well as face-to-face household visits by local agents. In February 2019, the new #iLabaYu (#ILoveYou) communications campaign was launched in the Philippines. The campaign encourages men to share in household chores, particularly laundry, and to contribute to raising a future generation of Filipinos who live out the true meaning of respect and equality beginning at home. Advocacy is also essential − and the programme actively engages global and local decision-makers with the aim of influencing policy and investment.
At the same time, the programme aims to provide better access to water and laundry infrastructure with new or improved communal laundries, household laundry facilities and water systems or centres.
The programme aims to reach 70,000 people directly and millions more through communications. By 2018 it had distributed 9,500 time and labour-saving devices and helped improve 66 water infrastructure systems, reaching more than 37,000 women and girls. It also helped train nearly 2,000 'care champions' to further raise awareness.
WE-Care: changing minds to change outcomes
Getting people to recognise the value of unpaid care work is a key step to making it fairer. And from UN Headquarters to local councils, our WE-Care partnership is reaching decision-makers − and helping encourage change.
In the Philippines, for example, WE-Care played a direct part in local government passing ordinances that recognise their responsibility for addressing unpaid care work. Local government bodies are committing to increase investment in care-related infrastructure, services, and research and knowledge generation. In the Tacloban City area, an ordinance is being integrated into budget processes through local Gender and Development Plans.
This is real change on the ground − but advocacy doesn't stop there. As well as making its case at the 62nd Commission on the Status of Women at the UN Headquarters in New York, WE-Care is engaged with major global influencers including the World Economic Forum and the OECD. Overall, we believe this partnership reflects the true spirit of our Opportunities for Women agenda - and makes a measurable contribution to SDG 5.4.1 on the recognition and value of unpaid care and domestic work.
This work contributes to the following UN Sustainable Development Goal
Unstereotyping our value chain
We’re embedding the idea of unstereotyping throughout our business and value chain. Given the severity of the barriers to progress these norms present, they have to be tackled at multiple levels and in a variety of ways. Elsewhere within Opportunities for women, we describe our work on:
- advancing diversity and inclusion, through which we’re building a stronger business with empowered women, including by addressing unconscious bias
- promoting safety for women, including challenging harmful norms within the communities we and our suppliers are operating in
- working with our brands and functions to provide women with access to skills to enhance their entrepreneurship and opportunities in life
- expanding women’s opportunities in our retail value chain to empower them in their communities, showing it’s possible to challenge limiting stereotypes, and to succeed.
2The power of parity: How advancing women’s equality can add $12 trillion to global growth, McKinsey Global Institute
Main image by Hanna Chriqui, Bangkok, Thailand