Nobel Peace Prize Nominee Genoveva Tisheva: Bulgarian Alcohol Commercials Belittle WomenInterview |Author: Maria Guineva | August 12, 2009, Wednesday // 12:36| views
Interview with Genoveva Tisheva, Managing Director of the Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation (BGRF) - a NGO promoting social equality and women's human rights in Bulgaria through research, education and advocacy programs.
Tisheva is a lawyer with rich experience in human rights, women's rights and protection from domestic violence. She has many publications and has been part in the creation of the Law for Protection against Domestic Violence, the Law for Combating Human Trafficking and others.
In July 2005, Genoveva Tisheva was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Tisheva is one of the 13 women who in the summer of 2008 filed an official complaint with Bulgaria's Commission for Protection against Discrimination over the advertising campaign of Bulgaria's alcohol producer "Peshtera" known as the "Season of the Watermelons" and "Passion in Crystals."
According to the claimants, the commercials discriminate them as women "deeply and lastingly, in all their forms and appearance". They believe that the advertisement campaign violates the European principle of equal treatment of women and men in the access to and supply of goods and services.
The claimants also ascertain that the advertisement is gender-based harassment, since its contents and messages harm their dignity and provide an abusive environment for them and for the majority of women.
Ms. Tisheva, when and how did you decide to file a complaint against the so-called "the season of the watermelons" TV commercials and billboard advertisements?
I filed the claim last year, in September, after an entire season of being inundated by the commercial in all its forms and during any time of the day and the night and seeing it on every second or third billboard.
I decided that I had been subjected to and had put up long enough with this insulting circulation of the female's image and decided to seek protection against this disgrace.
Who are the other women filing the complaint along with you? The media reported that there have been 13 women.
They are from different ages and with different carriers and also felt offended and discriminated as women.
Did you know them before you made the decision to ask the Commission for Protection against Discrimination for assistance in this matter? What brought you together?
Let's say I knew some of them and other offended and insulted women gathered around us. The common cause to put an end to this discrimination brought us together.
What do you find as so insulting in the mastika "Peshtera" commercials?
We are talking about last year's version, this is what we filed the complaint against. We are yet to comment on the current one.
We are offended by the exposure and the equalizing of the woman with a merchandise for sale; the comparison of the female body parts to watermelons, something to consume along with alcohol. The public belittling of our role as women is placing us in a discriminatory position; it encourages the perception of a woman as a consumable object, a sex object accompanying alcohol drinking. The large circulation and distribution of the commercial creates an offending and humiliating environment for us as women; this is sexual harassment.
The representation of the female body in this manner on such large-scale and with such public exposure interferes with our personal life and our identity as women and spreads out stereotypes about the role of the woman. And this humiliating perception of the woman in the commercials creates obstacles for our social realization and breeds violence because it implies the expectation that the woman will be always ready and willing.
In addition, there is the existence of disparity of women and men in the supply of goods and services, in particular through commercials, something that is banned by European and Bulgarian legislation.
We are also complaining on the basis of other local and international acts.
Why wasn't the complaint examined by the Commission for Protection against Discrimination last year when you filed it?
We don't have an explanation, maybe the case was too hard to initiate. At the end, the Commission made an attempt to dismiss the case based on the decision it was within the authority of the Commission for Consumer Protection, but we filed an appeal with the Supreme Administrative Court, which returned the case to the Discrimination Commission. After some delay, from the beginning of February 2009 until June, over member withdrawals and the collection of opinions from the alleged perpetrators of discrimination - TV channels, newspapers, the Sofia City Hall etc, the case was finally scheduled for mid-July, 2009.
We are now in the third season of the "watermelons" advertising campaign. What made you complain during the second one?
The second season was very charged and its negative effect was very strong. The commercials were very loud, directly blunt. We have not commented on the third season.
What was the outcome of the July meeting of the Commission for Protection against Discrimination regarding your claim?
The Commission was collecting evidence. We stated and explained how we felt, so did the other parties, including the producer of alcohol drinks - the "Peshtera" company. We watched again the TV clip with the commercial. The Commission decided to appoint an expert panel to study the impact of the commercial on women, seemingly someone needed to check how we felt. We did not oppose this decision, however, what can a psychologist, an advertising expert and a sexologist (imagine that!) say about how women feel when they watch those commercials and see the billboards? We will wait and find out the outcome in September, eventually.
How would you respond to attacks against you and your fellow supporters - that you are not a representative sample of the Bulgarian ladies, that you have low self-esteem and this is why you oppose the public display of the beauty of the Bulgarian woman? You are accused of false morals, some even call you unsatisfied feminists...
I do not intend to respond. In the internet forums much more people are on our side and they applaud us. The fact that it has occurred to someone, without knowing me, without knowing us, to attack us, is irrelevant to me and I don't care. The most I can do is to accept it as distant information. I am right and have my rights and do not intend to discuss stupid comments because this is how I see those attacks. The outcome and the future will show that we are right and this will have a positive influence on the public environment and the rights of the citizens.
I am relaxed because I know in Bulgaria things begin to happen 5 to 7 years after a reasonable campaign has started.
Our first indignation against an insulting and discriminatory commercial happened 7-8 years ago and was unsuccessful. But now we have a Commission, we have European norms and documents - in the EU and in the Council of Europe.
I have hope.
In the TV commercials and on billboards all over Bulgaria, two "star" Bulgarian pop folk singers, Galena (l) and Emilia (r) are shown generously pouring mastika - a popular anisette flavored brandy, to two men at a beach bar. The women are barely clad in tong bikinis while Galena's skimpy bras is in the form of watermelon peels. Since mastika is often drunk with watermelon as appetizer, the commercials are full with innuendos about the fruit and the two women's ample bosoms and hints about the guys receiving at the bar something more than just liquor.
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