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OPINION. Playing for change: important steps made by industry to boost toys and diversity

“I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know…” was the beginning of the famous Bing Crosby’s Christmas carol. Christmas is indeed coming soon: meetings with the family and friends, Christmas markets, lighting cities, meals, and for children, Christmas is the time to receive toys.

Toys are not just mere entertainment for children. Toys help children to shape their way to understand reality, to acquire new skills and experiences which can shape the choices they will make later on. Bearing this in mind, COFACE Families Europe decided to promote true diversity of toys, as part of its work to raise equal opportunities and diversity, through different awareness campaigns launched in 2016.

In the last campaign on Toys & Diversity, COFACE decided to gather the stories and opinions of toy consumers, to explore what determines and influences their choices when buying toys. “Toy Stories” was therefore launched, the first Europe-wide survey on Toys and Diversity (T&D survey) It was developed and translated by COFACE members into 13 languages.

The responses were far above our expectations, diverse, and underlined the need for more neutral and inclusive toys and toy advertising to reduce stereotypes, but recalled that some prejudices are still present in our societies. The responses were also a call for all stakeholders to take stock of these findings, reinforce mutual learning, best practices and collaboration.

The toy industry has always been one of the targets of organisations promoting more inclusive toys like COFACE and its members as a way to start a dialogue to address the challenges. Recently, very positive steps were taken by Toy Industries of Europe (TIE), the organisation which gathers the producers of European toys. TIE decided to launch the Play for Change awards, whose aim is to recognise and promote toy makers’ initiatives, no matter the size of the brand, that contribute positively to society.
The Awards had three categories (empowerment, sustainability, and future skills) and COFACE was invited to be a member of the Jury of the empowerment category. This invitation came at the right moment to continue promoting COFACE values regarding toys and to continue both building bridges and trust within the toy industry. As person in charge of the T&D survey, I was the person representing COFACE in the jury.

The Empowerment category was divided into three sections:

  • Toys designed to help children with a disability or impairment;
  • Toys that promote equality and inclusion through representation (racial background, children with disabilities, different body types, etc.);
  • Toy makers who are helping to tackle stereotypes.

Twelve entries were accepted in the Empowerment category and three of them were awarded.
The panel of judges was composed of professionals with different backgrounds, including people who work with organisations that have criticised TIE in the past. This clearly shows, from my point of view, that TIE is trying to bring different perspectives to the table of discussion and build bridges with different stakeholders of the toy world. Are these bridges robust enough? Well, only time can answer that question. But it could be the beginning of a “beautiful friendship”. I perhaps regretted the presence of more men in the jury. Well, the lack of men involved in gender equality issues is not certainly a première… (see “Being a man in a woman’s world – gender equality should also involve men”)
TIE is trying to make efforts for effective change, and want to incentivise, not only big toy brands but also SME toys, which, most of the time, do not have the same resources to do so. What is more, it is rewarding to see that the toy industry sees benefits in investing in gender equality and inclusion, which reflect the pluralism of our societies. Not to mention the desire of consumers to see these changes reflected.

The three entry categories (Empowerment, Sustainability, Future skills) are steps in paving the way for true and inclusive equality.

It is important to bear in mind that stereotypes still prevail in our society regarding the gender of the child, that is, some toys are still considered more “suitable” for one gender, and more specifically, boys suffer more that discrimination than girls. This was one of the major findings of the last campaign survey done by COFACE Families Europe.

I found that some of the toys on the entry were presented, through different advertisements (youtube, poster campaigns, etc.), for a specific gender, specially girls. These toys certainly empower all kinds of girls (taking in account the ethnic background, different disabilities, promoting Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics –STEM- professions, etc.), which is an important leap forward, but, unfortunately, neglect half of children, boys. It is therefore important to continue raising awareness of completely inclusive toys.

Rome was not built in a day. Changes take time and patience, and it is uneasy to get rid of many societal prejudices. This is why I strongly believe it is essential all the stakeholders have to do their bit to bring effective and lasting change that could lead us, as the Toy Stories movie says, “to infinite and beyond”.

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**DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this article reflect the views of the author, not of COFACE Families Europe**

About the author:

Pascual Martinez is Policy and Advocacy Officer at COFACE Families Europe where he deals with Employment and Gender Equality affairs. He has several years of experience in EU affairs, and has worked with different organisations and EU institutions, where he has closely monitored and helped to shape key EU legislation pertaining to social and economic issues. He holds two Masters in Economics and Politics and another one of the College of Europe of Bruges.

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