The excitement of a new year may be over, but the thrill of entering a new decade remains, and with good reason: reviewing societal changes by the decade puts things in fabulous perspective.
The last decade was synonymous with change, driven largely by the explosion of social media. Public platforms put everything, good and bad, in the spotlight.
In 2010, homophobia and body shaming were a part of daily life, and few batted an eyelid. Now, in 2020, things are different, thanks to movements birthed online, aimed at eradicating such offensive behaviour.
In 2013, #BlackLivesMatter set off a renewed global campaign for social justice post the civil rights era. This growing “hashtag activism” also gave rise to corporate social activism. Instead of taking their usual neutral stance, corporates added to the conversations online.
A brand that stands out for us at Asante Blush is Nike, which is known for being progressive. In 2018, it included US footballer Colin Kaepernick in an ad campaign. Kaepernick had become a controversial figure for kneeling during the national anthem in protest against racial injustice in the US. And last year, Nike launched a film starring Caster Semenya, after she lost her legal battle with the International Association of Athletics Federations by refusing to take hormone suppressants in order to be allowed to race competitively in certain distances.
In 2015, the world shifted when reality TV star Bruce Jenner publicly came out as a trans woman, Caitlyn. It attracted huge publicity, as has the LGBTIQ community’s campaign for equal rights, which made great strides in the past decade.
While Tarana Burke coined the iconic term #MeToo in 2006 to raise awareness about sexual abuse and empower women, it really took off in 2017 as a hashtag movement, following widespread allegations of sexual abuse in Hollywood.
South African shifts
South Africans have also seen seismic shifts, especially in terms of gender-based violence (GBV). We have marched, cried and raised our voices in protest, but still perpetrators continue their killing sprees. Chilling hashtags like #AmINext and #Femicide have become part of our daily conversations.
GBV is everyone’s problem, as brands like P&G and People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA) have shown. Last year, P&G called out toxic masculinity through its Gillette razor ad campaign, while POWA held a hard-hitting exhibition about RSA, the Republic of Sexual Abuse.
Glimmers of hope
Despite the gloom, 2019 also saw our Springbok rugby team win the World Cup and unite the nation. And Zozibini Tunzi, who was crowned Miss Universe in December, inspired us all by advocating for natural beauty rather than stereotypical glamour.
Dove has been a pioneer in challenging beauty stereotypes. In 2004, it launched the Real Beauty Campaign, which changed the narrative about female beauty by focusing on ‘real’ women and their bodies, rather than on airbrushed models. Dove campaigns continue to celebrate diversity by including older and fuller-figured women and by advocating for important values like inner beauty and positive self-esteem.
We need more brands to change the culture of advertising by challenging stereotypes and promoting progressive conversation and with the work of the Unstereotype Alliance there is no excuse for offensive stereotypes. The industry-led initiative convened by UN Women to end harmful stereotypes often perpetuated through advertising. The alliance challenges companies that spend billions on advertising and creatives to ensure that every advert that goes out to consumers doesn’t stereotype or reinforce the negative ideas of women as weak or as sexual objects or in stereotypical roles; instead, they should promote gender equality and empowered women.
In 2010, women hadn’t experienced such drives to action. Liberal views aimed at freeing women have struck a chord everywhere, thanks to social media. Modern women are part of the global community and are using their voice to claim their rights and to protect the rights of others. This is changing the world as we know.
The new decade will signal even more change. Although we have a long way to go in improving social ills, we need to face the 2020s with hope and optimism. After all, we’re the ones who are driving the changes – and long may we continue to do so.
Women have always risen. Women are rising even more today.
Cuma Pantshwa and Zama Nkosi-Mabuye are the founders and directors of Asante Blush, an agency designed to serve and help brands and organisations elevate women’s voices.
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