While flipping through a recent edition of Outlook magazine, I came across the advertisement of the Resurgent Rajasthan Partnership Summit, which was held in November 2015 in Jaipur.
The ad had an image of a man's face, complete with the masculine markers of a beard and moustache, set against the background of a beautiful tribal illustration, with the caption "I am Rajasthan. I'm Ready" in bold capital fonts. Bheel artist Prakash Jogi is given credit for the illustration.
At first sight it seemed a bit odd to me that the words "I am Rajasthan" were accompanied by a man's face, because a land or country is usually referred to in the feminine (motherland, Bharat Maa, etc, for example).
The majority of women have no decision-making power in their own households so how can they possibly attract investors to the state?
So would it be fair to assume that there was a bit of gender bias happening in the ad? Ok let's give it a benefit of doubt and say that the ad reflected not a gender bias but an aesthetically motivated decision. Let's say they wanted only a single portrait on the poster. I agree it is a designer's prerogative. But why couldn't that image be of a woman?
Suppose instead of a man we had a Rajasthani woman's face with a caption of "I am Rajasthan, I am ready". Would that be odd? Is it almost impossible to imagine that scenario? Perhaps yes.
For one, how could they have the image of a woman, with her head held high looking straight at the camera with confidence, when the majority of Rajasthani women are duty-bound to remain submissive and behind the veil? Secondly, how would it do justice to the gravitas of the Resurgent Rajasthan mission? After all, women are supposed to be used as sexual objects in ad campaigns and this is serious business from all over the world we are talking about.
At the bottom of the image, the ad features a proclamation by the Rajasthan government: "Rajasthan is born resilient, brimming with talent, polished at institutions like IITs and IIMs, driven by economic reforms, highways, SEZs, with a model of development that has liberalism at its core." Can we imagine a woman representing any of these feats?
While it is great to say "we built roads" is it not equally important to say "we made women safe?"
With a sex ratio of 926 females per 1000 males (against the national average of 940) and a female literacy rate of 52.66% (the national average is 65.46%), Rajasthan scores a rank of 31 out of 35 in the gender development index and comes 24th on the gender empowerment measure. In such a context, Rajasthani women are perhaps in no position of power or privilege to invite national and international industry experts and thought leaders. The majority of women have no decision-making power in their own households so how can they possibly attract investors to the state?
The reality is that putting a woman on the main poster would indeed not make any sense because the women of Rajasthan hardly represent any achievement. Although the state has a female Chief Minister the total women's participation in Rajasthan's legislative assembly is around 4.5%. So although Madam Vasundhara Raje is sending out the invites on behalf of the state her mascot is a male.
One should also question why all communication related to development is about roads and infrastructure and there's nary a word about human and gender development indexes? While it is great to say "we built roads" is it not equally important to say "we made women safe?"