June 27, 2019 / 5:25 PM / 4 months ago

Laundry ad promoting working women sparks furore in Pakistan

KARACHI/LAHORE, June 27 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A U.S. detergent advert that encourages women to pursue careers has sparked a debate over women's rights in conservative Pakistan, with critics urging people to #BoycottAriel.

The ad shows a female architect, doctor and journalist pushing away dirty sheets printed with the words "take care of the home" and "stay within four walls" to reveal cricket star Bismah Maroof saying, "these are not just sentences but stains".

"These feminists are saying, 'Make your own food, watch the kids'," university student Safdar Khan told the Thomson Reuters Foundation via Twitter.

"They basically want us to do their work. They should stay within Islam's boundaries," he said, after tweeting that the Ariel advert was "making fun of our religion".

Procter & Gamble did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Women make up 7% of Pakistan's labour force, the third-lowest figure globally, according to the World Bank, which has pushed for more childcare and a crackdown on sexual harassment to get more women out to work and boost economic growth.

The South Asian nation was ranked as the sixth most dangerous country for women in a Thomson Reuters Foundation poll last year, with hundreds of women and girls killed each year by family members angered at perceived damage to their "honour".

Other critics of the advert took to YouTube and Twitter with quotes from the Koran to support their beliefs that women should be confined to the home to hide their beauty and do their duty.

"Islam defines a woman's role and her boundaries ... exceeding these limits, isn't that against Islam?," Usman Haider Khasori told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, after tweeting that staying within four walls offers women protection.

"Ads must be constructive rather than destructive," he said, adding that Western culture was corrupting Pakistan, pointing to the recent arrival of nudity in films and women marching in favour of abortion in Pakistan earlier this year.

The Middle Eastern ride-sharing app Careem also triggered controversy this year for an ad featuring a bride that said, "If you want to run from your wedding, then book a Careem Bike!"

However, Salman Sufi, who has championed legislation and crisis centres to protect women against violence in Pakistan, praised Ariel for challenging stereotypes about women.

"Ads like these need to be pushed and become the norm to change the mindset of the masses," he said. "Corporates that do realise the importance of women's rights must keep making room for women's rights in their service to the society." (Additional reporting and writing by Annie Banerji @anniebanerji in NEW DELHI, Editing by Katy Migiro; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian issues, conflicts, land and property rights, modern slavery and human trafficking, gender equality, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories)

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