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The Ministry of Equal Opportunities of Slovenia launched a contest for the visual identity of a project aiming at addressing gender stereotypes. The response to the open call saved several surprises: outcomes and lessons learned from this innovative initiative
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In November 2013, the Ministry for labour, family, social affairs and equal opportunities of Slovenia launched an open call for the visual communication design of the project Towards Equalizing Power Relations of Women and Men. The project aims to strengthen awareness on gender equality to break gender stereotypes grounded in dichotomy of superiority / inferiority of men and women. The idea to have an open call was to involve and attract a wider public, improving social awareness on gender inequality. Participants had to submit their proposals, which included a project logo and eight images, one for each area (i.e. gender equality in politics, gender equality in economy, economic independence and social inclusion of women and men, reconciliation of work and private life, elimination of gender stereotypes, education on gender equality, equal opportunities of women and men in health and elimination of gender-based violence). Being an open call, everyone could apply. In order to encourage younger population to participate in the contest, a special invitation was sent to the three design university courses. Unfortunately, students have shown little interest, even though they would receive the reimbursement of the material costs in any case. Ministry received a total of thirty-one creative solutions. The top 20 chosen by the evaluation committee were exhibited at the Equality pays off! conference, where the participants voted for their favourite design. The evaluation criteria were: to be easily recognized and memorized, to be comprehensible, unique, witty and versatile.
If you had ever participated in the competition for the best visual communication design of a project on gender equality, having some background knowledge on this topic and being a gender sensible person must have been a great privilege for you. The main observation of the evaluation committee was, in fact, the reproduction of gender stereotypes. Most of the participants used gender specific colours (pink and blue), instead of gender neutral colours, which may be a sign of an internalization of gender stereotypes and also a great impact of gender specific marketing. At this point it should be stressed out that the education for gender equality shall start at the early age as it's kids the main target for gender specific marketing. Even in countries with the highest level of gender quality, specifically in Norway, one of the national companies launched egg packing separately for girls and for boys.
Most of the participants had also a quite abstract vision on gender equality issues. We could assume they were not too familiar with the content, therefore some ideas were not understandable enough, not witty nor unique and consequently easily wrapped into gender stereotypes. However, some of the ideas satisfied expectations of the Ministry and also the voters.
The idea that got the best evaluation by the committee and also more votes from the audience was developed by an advertising company employing young graphic designers. Their idea consisted of main logo made of scores and dots, representing four equal persons and the lettering with the project’s title. The eight area-specific images include two main faces -female and male- and very common symbols representing each area: a rostrum as a symbol for decision-making in politics, a clock with a baby as a symbol of family and work-life reconciliation, Euro as a symbol of economic independence etc. Authors were aware they had to avoid prejudices and stereotypes based on gender that is why they chose gender neutral coloursand clear characters without excessive emphasizing of gender differences.
The second award went in hands of young creative duet whose main focus was bringing some cartoon spirit and wittiness into images. Well-known female and male signs were
captured into the symbol of infinity which signifies the message, that women and men should always have equal opportunities. In other words, gender equality is not limited in time and space, but it has to be present in everyday’s life of this and future generation. It is a fact that stereotypes somehow justify gender discrimination and reinforce historical and structural patterns of discrimination. In order to avoid common stereotypes, authors presented the role of woman and man as equal.
Another young and creative female duet was rewarded with the third place. Duality is clearly seen from their vision of gender equality, as a half of each gender forms a whole person. This creative solution was one among many presented in pink-blue colour combination. At his point it should be stressed out, that pink colour was once (in early 1900s) associated with masculinity, as it was considered as a strong colour, while blue was associated with the colour of Virgin Mary. Due to the retailers and manufacturers after WW2 the shift in colours was made and this trend has been lasting since then. Authors intentionally used this colour dichotomy. But unlike others, blue colour was meant for female figure and pink for male figure. Nevertheless, beside the use of colours authors emphasized the importance of symbols. A weight lift is an important symbol which presents gender equality as a balance of both figures. Both halves need to be equally strong in order to lift a weight.
To conclude,stereotypes can be very rigid. However, they do and have changed over time. This open call was an opportunity for all, the Ministry and contestants, to overcome gender stereotypes and to promote gender equality issues. This open call showed that there were contestants who had been thinking out of the box. It also showed that the remains of patriarchy, which are closely linked to gender roles, have still been deeply rooted in Slovenia.Also Slovenian society remains characterised by a gender-based power structure. Nevertheless, there is a lack of social awareness on gender equality issues. As already mentioned, selection of the best visual communication design was just a one step on the way to improve social awareness and to gain mutual respect, understanding and equal opportunities between women and men. And we still have a long way to go…
 More information available at: http://www.prat.se/aktuellt/gender-eggs-in-norwegian-grocery-stores-cause-social-media-protest-storm/.