German bike safety campaign featuring semi-naked models sparks sexism row

by Sonia Elks | @SoniaElks | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 25 March 2019 16:53 GMT

Semi-dressed models wear bike helmets in a German government campaign aimed at encouraging young people to wear helmets while cycling, released on March 22, 2019. German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure

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The government said it stood by the adverts, which "generate attention for our campaign and can thus save lives"

(Contains strong language in 2nd par)

By Sonia Elks

LONDON, March 25 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A German government road safety campaign featuring models wearing bicycle helmets and little else has sparked a backlash and claims of sexism.

The adverts, aimed at winning over young cyclists who see wearing helmets as uncool, showed models wearing them with nothing but underwear alongside the slogan, "Looks like shit. But saves my life".

Politicians and campaigners said the campaign missed the mark by objectifying women - while also adding to users' negative feelings about helmets.

The Munich branch of the left-wing youth party Left Youth Solid posted a photograph of transport minister Andreas Scheuer in the style of the safety adverts, saying he "looks sexist" and the campaign reduces women to objects.

The family minister Franziska Giffey also hit back, posting a photograph of herself with her bike on Facebook with the comment, "Dear Andreas Scheuer, being dressed also goes with a helmet".

The government said it stood by the adverts, which "generate attention for our campaign and can thus save lives".

Scheuer tweeted that he was pleased to see the "huge" amount of the attention the adverts had generated, saying it was the ministry's most successful road safety campaign.

The campaign was launched in response to data showing fewer than 10 percent of cyclists aged 17 to 30 wear a helmet, according to a government press release.

A survey of more than 1,000 young people found many chose not to wear a helmet despite being aware of the safety benefits because they thought they were uncomfortable and ugly, it added.

The campaign was shot by British celebrity photographer Rankin and features Germany's Next Top Model reality television show contestant Alicija Kohler.

The campaign created a strong response on social media, but many criticised it as overly sexualised and ineffective.

Some users responded with photographs showing themselves in bicycle gear and helmets, saying the safety gear looked "cool" and "awesome".

The Australian Cycle Alliance, an advocacy group, tweeted: "Hard to know what was going through their heads when they came up with this ad campaign. Maybe they have hit their own heads once too many times." (Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit

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