5 Nov 2019
Sexist Toys Targeted by Dutch Minister and France
Last month, the Dutch minister for Education, Culture and Science, Ingrid van Engelshoven, was questioned in the Dutch Parliament following her statement published in a Dutch newspaper in which she had called on toy manufacturers to re-assess the role-enhancing toys they may produce. The call follows the recent adoption of a French measure which seeks to ban the distinction between toys for girls and toys for boys. The French government, along with some other actors in the toy industry, signed the so-called Charter for a Balanced Representation of Toys on 24 September 2019.
Dutch minister’s position
On 26 September 2019, Dutch minister Van Engelshoven proclaimed in a Dutch newspaper that manufacturers of children’s toys ought to re-assess role-enhancing toys in their children’s toy collections. She calls on toy manufacturers to scrutinise more carefully what they produce, with a view to ending gender-stereotyping in the toy industry.
The minister had in mind the accord that has been reached (in time for Christmas sales) among French toy manufacturers to do away with games or toys that promote stereotypes between the sexes. The Dutch minister’s proclamations echo that of a French minister, who has indicated that several toys conveyed “insidious” messages.
However, the Dutch minister’s call has led to significant opposition in her country’s Parliament. The political parties which form part of the current Dutch government, other than the minister’s own party, also criticised Van Engelshoven for her statements, and claimed that the Dutch government should not become involved in the use of children’s toys in Dutch families.
The opposition asked the minister official questions in Parliament. She responded by stating that she does not wish to get involved in the toys that are used by children in the Netherlands, but, rather, would like to incentivise manufacturers to produce a wider choice of toys for families, which do not stereotype boys and girls.
Although no official proposal for a measure has been initiated by the Dutch government, Hong Kong companies active in the market for children’s toys may keep in mind that sexist toys may increasingly be perceived negatively in Western European society: France, for instance, already adopted a measure seeking to ban the distinction between toys for girls and toys for boys earlier this year, before the selling period leading up to Christmas.
Although toymakers in France have indicated that it may not be possible to alter their range before Christmas this year, there would nonetheless be changes to displays in shops and in the way that shop staff treat boys and girls.
The Charter for a Balanced Representation of Toys is a pact between the French government, spearheaded by the Department of Economy and Finances, toy manufacturers and distributors, and the French toy industry federations, to abolish gender stereotypes in toys by 4 September 2019. France’s minister for the economy, Agnès Pannier-Runacher, has announced that the new “Charter for balanced (gender) representation in toys” is targeted at giving both girls and boys “access to a world that opens up a range of possibilities”. She commented on French radio that “a little girl may want to be a doctor and not to dress up in a nurse's uniform”, adding that “she might choose to be a knight riding into battle rather than a princess. Let's give them a far richer world that doesn't stigmatise them”.
The Charter sets out clear and specific measures relative to each actor in the toy industry, which they are expected to implement as a result of signing the document.
Hong Kong manufacturers of children’s toys should note that for toy manufacturers, these measures encourage the creation of new clothes and references that target technology for girls on the one hand, and enhance the caring, and domesticated side of boys, on the other. It suggests promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) industries on the products and in advertisements, as well as removing gender categories and sexist slogans to achieve this goal.
The measures specific to toy distributors call for collections, catalogues and the organisation of shops to limit and avoid representing gender stereotypes in the form of colours, posters and toy arrangements. They also suggest training staff to ask non-gender specific questions to consumers. In a similar fashion, the measures for French toy federations and associations encourage cooperation for producing gender-balanced campaigns, guides and policies.