Jo Swinson, Equalities Minister, has written to toy manufacturers and retailers asking them not to market toys as gender-specific.
Currently only seven per cent of engineers are women and only 10 per cent of nurses are men. While, in recent years almost half of all state schools had no girls taking A level physics and nearly double the number of boys took A level maths compared to girls.
It is thought this is happening because the future aspirations of girls and boys are being limited at a very young age partly through gender-specific toys such as pink toy vacuum cleaners designed to appeal girls and science sets with pictures of boys. They are then sold in toy shops in sections labelled 'toys for boys' and 'toys for girls'.
Ms Swinson said: 'Parents know that boys and girls love all kinds of toys. With children developing very clear ideas at a young age about what jobs boys and girls can do, we can all help to send a clear signal that nothing is off limits. It is great that fewer retailers are defining toys as 'for boys' or 'for girls', which shows they are responding to their customers' demands for more choice.'
The parent-led campaign group, Let Toys Be Toys, which is backing the Equalities Minister, has been leading on this issue for a number of years. Its campaign has led to influential companies - such as Tesco, M&S, and Boots - to stop signposting boys' and girls' toys on their websites and in their shops.
Campaigner Jess Day of Let Toys Be Toys, said: 'We believe that there is no such thing as a 'girls' toy' or a 'boys' toy'. Marketing toys by gender limits children's choices, limits their chances to learn and develop, and feeds bullying. Toys and toy marketing loom very large in children's worlds, and are hugely influential in children's development. Toy manufacturers, retailers and publishers need to be responsible, and avoid pushing limiting and dated stereotypes.
'We're delighted that categorising toys into 'Boys' and 'Girls' appears to be falling out of favour, with our recent survey of toy websites this year showing a 46 per cent drop in gendered navigation compared with two years ago, and our 2013 toyshop survey showing a 60 per cent drop in 'Boys' and 'Girls' signage on the previous year. A majority of stores are now selling toys without overt gender labelling; shoppers can find the toys they want to buy more easily when they're organised by category or theme. We ask retailers to 'just say what it is, not who you think it should be for'.'
Jo Swinson is asking both manufacturers and retailers of toys to get behind Your Life campaign - http://yourlife.org.uk/ - which is encouraging young people, especially girls, to consider science, technology, engineering and maths careers - and pledge to take action to increase the numbers of women working in the sector.
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