Girls' futures are not in the pink says Newcastle MP Chi Onwurah

Pink and blue toys aimed at girls and boys are unfair - and damage the economy, a North East MP has warned

Iain Buist Ms Onwurah, MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central
Lib - Newcastle M.P Chi Onwurah..Pic by Iain Buist.

Pink and blue toys aimed at girls and boys are unfair - and damage the economy, a North East MP has warned.

Chi Onwurah said toys which discourage girls from taking an interest in science and technology are robbing Britsh industry of potential workers which it urgently needs.

They also helped to perpetuate an unjust pay gap between men and women, because careers in engineering often paid more than jobs such as teaching which were seen as traditional roles for women.

Ms Onwurah, MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, said the lack of women in science, engineering and technology careers also meant they were excluded from debates that shape our society, such as how to respond to climate change.

She was leading a debate in the House of Commons on the way that toys are aimed specifically at boys or girls.

They were often identified by colour, with pink toys aimed at girls, and many shops simply put up signs saying one shelf contained toys for boys while another had toys for girls.

But toys such as Lego or science-based games were often presented as boys’ toys - while girls were more likely to be encouraged to play with dolls.

She said: “Before entering parliament I spent two decades as a professional engineer, working across three continents.

“It was always a predominantly or indeed all-male environment, But it’s only when I walk into a toy shop that I really feel I am experiencing gender segregation.”

The industry hadn’t always been like this, she said, and toys were once marketed as suitable for either gender.

But she warned: “It has got to the point where it is difficult to buy toys for girls which are not pink.”

The MP said she had been driven to raise the issue because of letters from constituents - including one who complained that a store in Eldon Square in Newcastle “displays signs saying ‘boys toys’ and ‘girls toys’ above the shelves.” Another had complained that a shop at the Metrocentre in Gateshead had a Lego police helicopter on the shelf - by a sign informing shoppers that the Lego for girls was around the corner.

Ms Onwurah said: “I know the economy is the prime concern of my constituents right now but this is about our long term economy, our ability to compete in decades to come.”

India was more successful than the UK in encouraging women to study science, technology, engineering and maths subjects, which would provide it with a skilled workforce Britain lacked, she said.

Minister Jenny Willott said: “Officials have met retailers, manufacturers and others to discuss the issues raised today.”

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