Google autocomplete feature reveals sexism is very much alive and kicking

Published November 18th, 2013 - 04:00 GMT
UN Women ad campaign uses Google to highlight global gender inequality. [unwomen.org]
UN Women ad campaign uses Google to highlight global gender inequality. [unwomen.org]

“Women shouldn’t have rights.” On March 9, 2013, this was the top autocomplete suggestion provided by Google when users searched the words “Women shouldn’t…”

A new advert, designed for U.N. Women by a Dubai-based agency, uses the example to highlight the sexism many women still face.

When users typed “Women need to,” they were prompted with a top suggestion of “Women need to be put in their place.” Meanwhile, if a user were to search “Women should” on March 9, the top suggestion completed the sentence with “Women should stay at home.”

“We felt that those shocking negative results are needed to be shared,” said agency Memac Ogilvy & Mather’s Dubai team, developers of the advert.

The commercial depicts a series of women who have the Google search bar, with the autocomplete results, superimposed over their mouths.

According to Ronald Howes, managing director of Memac Ogilvy & Mather Dubai, the advert was well-received internationally.

“This has encouraged us to develop it even further, after the global acclaim that is has received,” he told Al Arabiya News.

“Gender inequality is still rife in the world including in the Middle East,” stated Sabia Fatayri, art director at Memac Ogilvy & Mather. However, she added that the advert aimed “to shed light on the prejudices that women face on a daily basis and hopefully to inspire a conversation about this important issue.”

Striking

Nanette Braun, chief of Communications and Advocacy at U.N. Women described why she thinks the advert is so striking.

“We are aware that sexism exists, yet to see it revealed unfiltered in the autocomplete searches on which the ads are based does nonetheless come as a shock and this is what makes the creative concept so powerful,” she told Al Arabiya News.

To face this reality, she stated, U.N. Women works to strengthen the role that women play in their respective countries.

The agency is also working to increase women’s access to opportunities and resources, to education and health, Braun added.

Google’s autocomplete feature, that sparked the idea for the advert, sees a list of options automatically produced under the search bar. Those options are based on a number of factors including the popularity of search terms.

“We periodically update our systems to improve [the] search [engine], so the terms that appear in autocomplete may change over time,” explained Maha Abouelenein, Google’s Head of Communications in MENA region.


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