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Should boy and girl toys be banned as they stop women taking up careers in maths and science?

The French say gender stereotypes in toys can lead to fewer women in science. Credit: ITV West Country

French toymakers have signed a pact to get rid of gender stereotypes in playthings as their government says they can stop women taking up careers in science and maths.

The charter for a “balanced representation in toys” was signed by the government, the French Federation of Toy and Childcare Industries and the association of toy manufacturers. The reasoning behind the decision was that many toys project messages that discourage girls from pursuing careers in engineering or computing.

The question is, should the UK follow suit?

Shelley Hassall, from Falmouth Toy Library, says it takes care to offer a mix of toys for children to play with.

When we have our play sessions the room is filled full of a mix of toys but ultimately it's up to the children what they choose to play with. It's very interesting observing them. Boys tend to gravitate towards the trains and construction and girls towards the imaginary play.

– Shelley Hassall, Falmouth Toy Library
Should pink be outlawed to encourage girls to pick different toys? Credit: ITV West Country

Shrouk El-Attar is an engineer at Renishaw in Wotton-under-Edge in Gloucestershire. She says her passion for electronics wasn't necessarily sparked by specific toys: "I played with a lot of Barbies, a lot of make up toys, but I also had a ton of science kits. My parents bought me electronic science kits, little Legos - just a variety - I think those should be available to people of all genders."

Shrouk is in the running for Young Woman Engineer of the Year 2019. She believes the way toys are manufactured and sold needs to be rethought but other changes are needed too.

Toys are a big step in the right direction, but there's a lot more that we need to do. The idea of what an engineer looks like is really outdated, and we need to make sure young girls can see themselves represented in these career choices as well.

– Shrouk El-Attar, Electronics Design Engineer, Renishaw

Research by The Institution for Engineering and Technology has found that gendered toys could deter girls from careers in engineering. It says toys with a technology focus are three times as likely to be targeted at boys.

Mamta Singhal, toy engineer and IET spokesperson, said: "I think the toys that children play with do have an influence on what they do in later life. I, for example, played with a range of boy-related toys - you know, cars and building sets - but also girl toys. I think that parents and schools and nurseries can help engage children in learning just to be curious and problem solving".

9%
Proportion of women in the UK engineering and technology workforce in 2016
12%
Proportion of women in the UK engineering and technology workforce in 2019

When the research was published, in December 2016, the UK's engineering and technology workforce was made up of just 9% of women. Three years later, and following a major social media campaign #9PercentIsNotEnough, that figure has risen to 12%. Clearly still more needs to be done and providing toys that aren't gender stereotyped should help in the long term.

Could the toys this little boy plays with help decide his future career? Credit: ITV West Country

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