February 22, 2024


The gentle clink of a spoon against a tiny teacup accompanies the sight of a Turkish teapot boiling on the stove. A door opens and a man enters the house. Over 10 people are gathered in the living room waiting for him, a woman with a smile on her face and a tray full of teacups comes down from the kitchen to serve them.

While everyone is sitting, dancing to the music and drinking their tea, the woman who serves them is sitting separated from the rest. One man turns to another and says, “Uncle, I almost forgot, I came to arrange a marriage,” the camera pans to the woman with the tray, implying that the man had come to marry her to someone.

This scene is from an advertisement for tea. Such advertising, which reduces women to servants and promotes the idea that men determine women’s fate, is considered at least outdated by many, and sexist by others. Such videos and other similar forms of advertising are still prevalent on television, radio, billboards and elsewhere.

Before the rise of social networks, these advertisements were mainly on the TV and radio. Now, they are everywhere, as different companies flood social media to promote their products or services. 

Over the years, social media users in Kosovo have been exposed to advertisements using slogans such as “make your husband yours.” In these advertisements, beauty salons suggest that if women do their hair and wear makeup, her husband will be more responsible. On March 8, International Women’s Day, it is common to see household products like vacuum cleaners, clothing irons, and other items on sale as a way to celebrate women. 

Recently, an international brewing company began advertising its products through sexually suggestive expressions on billboards and social media. These expressions included a play on words in Albanian with sexual connotations. Meanwhile, “Show your girlfriend what it’s like waiting while shopping,” was written on a shop that sells tires and other car parts.

A social media account for a serum which is supposed to grow eyelashes and eyebrows posted an advertisement telling women: “Of course he ignores you, have you seen your eyelashes?” This slogan was accompanied by a photo showing a man staring at the woman in front of him.

The list of similar advertisements is long. Many of them intentionally or unintentionally perpetuate gender roles, rigid expectations about how women and men should behave. This makes efforts for an equal media landscape more difficult.

Facing a flood of advertisements

Successful advertising of products or services is often equated with sales and therefore profit for the company or business that produces it. So, advertising is essential for businesses. This is evident in the amount of money spent each year on advertising and the exponential growth of advertising and public exposure to advertisements.

According to German data collection platform Statista, 522.5 billion dollars was spent worldwide on advertising in 2021. Projections suggest that this figure will increase yearly and will reach $836 billion by 2026 — a 60% increase over 2021. This increasing investment in advertising has also increased the number of advertisements. For example, in the 1970s, the average American was exposed to about 500 advertisements per day. Today, the number is around 5,000. According to a University of Southern California infographic, an American adult now sees around two million advertisements annually, while a child sees around 20,000.

With their wide reach and distribution, advertisements do not just promote products but also possess the power to spread messages, evoke emotions and influence behavior. These advertisements often simulate everyday life, trying to influence and connect with the audience.


However, for many groups, such as women, the routines of daily life should be challenged rather than reproduced. Instead, many businesses capitalize on existing gender inequality in their advertising by portraying women as caregivers, oversexualizing their bodies, perpetuating narratives that place women at a disadvantage and reinforce rigid gender role expectations.

Advertising that includes sexist content harms women’s well-being and normalizes misogyny and violence. As a result, it also fosters an environment conducive to information disorder and gendered disinformation — a term that is often used regarding disinformation aimed at discouraging women from public participation. In a broader sense, gendered disinformation refers to spreading disinformation about people based on their gender, often employing gender stereotypes as means to do so. Additionally, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia are also common features of gendered misinformation often present in how businesses advertise in Kosovo.

When it comes to advertising that perpetuates sexist and misogynistic portrayals, organizations striving to combat gender inequality often find that businesses show no willingness to support the cause.

Eurisa Rukovci, founder of the feminist online magazine Grazeta, considers businesses and their advertisements a reflection of society.

“Companies and businesses do not develop on an island isolated from society, nor do they live closed off from it. I don’t expect business advertisements to take on an emancipatory mission for gender equality, but they should at least be criticized when they go to the extreme of solidifying [traditional] gender roles,” said Rukovci.

However, while many advertisements imitate reality, they also play a role in shaping reality. According to Lindita Tahiri, professor of English Language and Literature and Journalism at the University of Prishtina, advertisements influence our lifestyle and so have an even more radical impact.

“You are walking on the street, you see the advertisements, whether on the bus, in shops, on the advertising billboards on the streets, even at home on the TV. It’s not that you pay much attention, but if 365 days each year you are exposed to the same scenes of stereotypes, it starts to become natural for you and then unconsciously it becomes our lifestyle,” said Tahiri.

According to Leonida Molliqaj, executive director at the Center for Information, Critique, and Action, advertisements’ pervasive nature enables them to communicate messages about beauty standards, societal expectations about women’s behavior and the characteristics women should have. Thus, depictions of women in this type of advertising influence whether women are accepted or excluded in society and become a means of measuring status and success.

“You think that a certain cream will remove your wrinkles, and your main concern is ‘do I have enough money to buy that cream,’ instead of thinking, ‘Why is this pressure being placed on me and should I think this way about myself and my body? Should women always look beautiful, what do I think about beauty?’ These questions are rare because this type of marketing is very powerful and very abusive. They serve it to us as an absolute truth,” said Molliqaj.

Sexist content in advertisements is not a problem isolated to Kosovo. Around the world, various initiatives and mechanisms have been established to encourage businesses and advertising agencies to pay closer attention to the messages they convey and their societal impact. Now, the new concern has become sneaky sexism.

Sexism is hidden in plain sight

Since advertising is such a significant industry, Kosovo has many marketing agencies that work with businesses to develop marketing strategies. 

For Molliqaj, advertising agencies bear much of the blame for reproducing sexist content through advertisements in order to sell their products.

“Their main goal is to go viral, which can lead to increased sales if they adhere to these traditional forms of marketing. It’s not that they are unaware of their advertisements’ impact, but they realize that ‘it’s easier to make an advertisement that reflects societal realities.’ So, it is much easier to sell flour if [the advertisement depicts] a woman cooking a pie rather than a man cooking a pie,” she said.

Meanwhile, according to Arian Rexhepi, director and founder of the Koperativa advertising and communication agency, which has been active since 2004, the concepts and final decisions for advertisements primarily come from businesses. However, there is room for change and suggestions from the advertising agencies. In his 20 years of experience in creating commercials, there have been occasions when he has objected to ideas that promote sexism or perpetuate gender inequalities. According to him, it is important for companies to uphold certain beliefs and values when deciding on the work they accept or reject.

“Each company must have some social responsibility, because that improves the communication culture in general,” said Rexhepi. “It is in the interest of the whole society to have an open-minded approach, not to create advertisements that assume women must be in the kitchen and men must be working in the garage.”

According to Rexhepi, the advertising industry has started to be more cautious, with noticeable changes in overall professionalism and communication. According to him, this has happened due advancements in technology and innovation that have had a significant impact. Now, there are numerous and fast public reactions, providing businesses and agencies with opportunities to develop professionally.

Even according to Tahiri, advertisements have undergone a significant transformation compared to the past. Now, advertisements are much more sophisticated, crafted by teams of experts and are more aesthetically and artistically made. They are designed to convey more intelligent messages and benefit from more financial resources.

Despite these changes, the new concern is that advertisements continue to perpetuate sexism in a more subtle manner. In 2021, Philippa Roberts and Jane Cunningham, founders of PLH research consultancy, published the book Brandsplaining: Why Marketing is (Still) Sexist And How To Fix It. The book presents findings of 15 years of research during which they spoke to 14,000 women from 14 countries around the world to understand their thoughts about marketing.

In this research, the authors utilize the term sneaky sexism or hidden sexism. They found that today, 25% of advertisements featuring women depict them in a sexualized manner, while in 85% of these advertisements women are presented within the “good girl” narrative. This term describes the ideal woman as seductive, passive, young, thin and white.

Cunningham and Roberts argue that the issue of sexist advertising persists and that rather than disappearing, it has changed form.

In Kosovo, various initiatives actively monitor and publically denounce sexist content on a daily basis. Their work is particularly significant given that in Kosovo, unlike in many other countries, there is no specific institution or mechanism dedicated to addressing advertising content. 

The European Advertising Standards Alliance (EASA) operates at a continental level. EASA consists of 41 organizations. These organizations represent 27 self-regulatory bodies for advertising from Europe, along with 13 organizations involved in advertising, such as advertisers, agencies and media entities. One of EASA’s primary focuses is to ensure responsible portrayal of gender in advertising.

There are two relevant bodies overseeing the media in Kosovo, but their scope extends beyond advertising specifically. The Independent Media Commission (IMC) is an independent body responsible for regulation, management and supervision of broadcasting in Kosovo. The IMC licenses public and private broadcasters, defines and implements broadcasting policy, and regulates rights, obligations and responsibilities of providers of audio and audiovisual services.  The IMC also monitors advertising content. Complaints about sexist advertisements are addressed in accordance with the relevant legislation. This legislation consists of Regulation for Commercial Audio and Audiovisual Communications, Regulation for the Protection of Children and Minors in Audio and Audiovisual Media Services and the Code of Ethics for Media Service Providers in the Republic of Kosovo.

“We have received several complaints about advertisements, which we have decided to not broadcast or to edit,” said Arsim Dreshaj, officer for public communication at the IMC. Dreshaj added that until now, there has been no need to pursue legal proceedings and impose fines on media outlets that have broadcast non-compliant advertisements. This is because once the media outlets were notified by the IMC, they stopped broadcasting the non-compliant material. 

The self-regulatory body for the press is the Press Council of Kosovo (PCK), which consists of 40 regular members, newspapers, online portals and news agencies. The PCK operates with the Press Code and aims to protect citizens from false articles and to protect journalists from unsubstantiated complaints.

When it comes to written advertisements, citizens can file complaints to the PCK if advertising content in media is not clearly distinguished from editorial content or if advertising content contains language that incites hatred. The PCK says that it has not received any complaints.  

Meanwhile, one of the independent initiatives dedicated to gender issues in advertising is Tung Seksizmit — a subsidiary of the French association Pépite Sexiste. Tung Seksizmit provides a platform for consumers to report instances of sexism and stereotypes that are spread through marketing. Tung Seksizmit operates in both Albania and Kosovo with the aim of raising awareness about sexism and gender stereotypes. The organization seeks to engage with companies that, whether consciously or unconsciously, use sexist language or images or gender stereotypes to sell their products.

Since its founding in 2020, Tung Seksizmit has issued calls to over 100 companies regarding advertisements containing sexist content.

“Companies must understand that nudity, hypersexualization, gender-based price gaps are becoming more and more unacceptable to customers. Now, this may even lead to boycotts, as has happened to some international firms,” said Tung Seksizmit via email.

Tung Seksizmit maintains continuous communication with the public, whose engagement provides Tung Seksizmit with opportunities to expand its presence and identify sexist content, especially sneaky sexism in advertising. “We are lucky to be in dialogue with a tolerant, curious and engaged community about gender issues. Often they are the ones who send us the materials and appeal to sexist companies,” said Tung Seksizmit.

Molliqaj and Rukovci also see a difference in the way the public reacts and opposes. Meanwhile, Tahiri thinks that change should be sought early and in the way education is organized, from the very beginning.

“I think that if society wants to see how many sexist stereotypes exist, it should start from daycare, with which toys children play with, which fairytales they hear,” said Tahiri.

Author: Fatjona Rudi

Feature image: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.

This article was originally produced for and published by Kosovo 2.0. It has been re-published here with permission.