An international detergent brand has come under fire for an advertisement questioning gender stereotypes in patriarchal Pakistan, with critics denouncing the company for allegedly insulting Islam.
The commercial for Ariel soap, owned by U.S.-based Proctor & Gamble, calls for women to break free of conservative norms and pursue careers. In the ad, several women representing different professions—including a journalist and doctor—are seen pushing dirty sheets hanging on a clothesline off the screen.
The sheets are printed with common refrains used to reinforce the oppression of women in Pakistan, including the question “What will people say?” which heralds scandal every time a woman chooses to challenge gender norms.
The commercial ends with a close-up shot of Pakistan women’s cricket team captain Bismah Maroof saying: “Stay within the house… these are not only sentences but stains.”
Social media was abuzz on the issue, with conservatives lambasting its message using the hashtag “#BoycottAriel” on Twitter. “They [are] insulting Islamic teaching in their advertising,” wrote Binte Suleman on Twitter, while Raja Moazzam added: “Please take action against these liberals, who [are] prompting liberalism in Pakistan.”
Others called for Pakistani regulators to have the commercial officially censored and removed. The company did not immediately respond to requests for comment by AFP.
Women in Pakistan have fought for decades to secure their rights.
Much of society lives under a patriarchal, outdated code of so-called “honor” that systemizes the oppression of women who defy tradition by, for example, choosing their own husband or working outside the home. Women also face what activists have called pervasive violence against them by men, routine discrimination in the workplace, and public harassment, with few women daring to walk alone outside of their homes.
The Ariel advert is not the first time a major company has faced backlash in the country over its stance on women’s rights.
Ride-sharing app Careem came in for its share when it released a lighthearted ad earlier this year showing a runaway bride, the caption reading: “If you want to run away from your wedding, book a Careem bike!” Critics filed a legal petition against the ad, calling it an “unethical promotional campaign.”
And in 2016 Pakistani mobile company QMobile was criticized after an ad, which showed a female cricketer defying her father’s wishes and leaving home to pursue her dreams of playing internationally. The ad was branded a conspiracy against Pakistani values, with some commentators taking particular exception to “vulgar” footage of the cricketer running up to bowl.