On Our Radar: Challenging Gender Norms and Polarizing GM Debate
Between traditional news channels, blogs, and social media, it can be hard to keep up with what’s making waves in the field of sustainable development. In this roundup we aim to cut through the noise with a handful of highlights that have caught our eye.
Challenging Gender Norms Through Product Marketing
In early September Toys ‘R’ Us pledged to drop gender labeling for its products in UK stores, and in the long term, it has indicated plans to remove explicit references to gender in its store signage. The move followed pressure from Let Toys Be Toys, a consumer group that campaigns for gender neutrality in toys. The campaign highlights the social cost of gendered marketing to children— from influencing personality development to shaping world views. Other UK retailers including Boots have agreed to remove “boy” and “girl” signs from their stores after receiving social media pressure from consumers.
Recently Lego introduced a female scientist as part of its Minifigures Series 11 collection. A blog on Scientific American finds that the ratio of all-time minifigure models is roughly 4:1 in favour of males. The unveiling of the female scientist confronts a known but overlooked fact—the lack of women in the hard sciences. With females representing only 11% of engineers in the US, and a high gender wage gap in science and engineering, this minifigure’s inclusion has been recognized as an attempt to capture how gender roles are shifting in society. This is particularly newsworthy since last year Lego came under fire for launching Lego Friends, a line of toys aimed specifically at girls where the company produced stereotypical female minifigurines with plenty of pink.
Activists have also attributed Lego’s gender problem to the lack of female representation in its senior management positions. For most industries, a lack of diversity around operations or on the board does not impact product innovation or branding decisions, but for design-oriented industries the correlation can be stronger. Taking a holistic approach to gender diversity is the focus of the Women’s Empowerment Principles launched by UN Women and UN Global Compact three years ago. Companies across sectors have signed up to these Principles, thereby reflecting their commitment to achieving parity. Unfortunately, the Principles do not address the underlying cultural norms and socialization processes that give rise to inequality in the first place. In that regard, it is worthwhile to note the instrumental role toy companies and retailers can play in defining how gender stereotypes are challenged through socialization in childhood.
Collaboration Needed to End Polarized GM Debate?
Although Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) are not a new issue, they remain highly contentious and polarizing. In the past year, scepticism around the effects of biotechnology sparked a US-wide movement to demand mandatory labeling of food from genetically modified crops. According to a New York Times poll& conducted this year, 93% of respondents from across the US said that foods containing such ingredients should be identified. Despite voters rejecting California’s GMO labeling last year, opposition to trials of genetically modified crops is still rising. It was most recently witnessed when 400 anti-GMO activists attacked and destroyed a field trial of genetically modified Golden Rice in the Philippines. Contrary to what the activists claim, there was no corporate involvement in the Golden Rice trial; the trial was conducted by the International Rice Research Institute, a non-profit group along with other public sector partners who hoped to provide a new source of Vitamin A, lack of which can cause blindness in children.
As battle lines around GMO are actively re-drawn, moderate voices are calling for an end to this divisiveness. Marc Gunther’s recent blog presses for the need to move beyond the polarized GMO debate and expand our understanding of what the actors closely involved with the issue (plant breeders and farmers) do and why so that we can make better informed decisions about GMO technology and oversight. As the STEPS research and policy center points out, a “pro” or “anti” stance does not create the opportunity for a balanced debate on this topic.
The Golden Rice example illustrates that seed companies are not the only entities that need to be engaged in conversation. Is the time ripe to develop a broad-based, independent forum where all stakeholders—companies, NGOs, the activists, consumers, policymakers, etc.—could have a thoughtful reboot on the issue in order to move forward?
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From the Library
A GlobeScan / SustainAbility Survey
A GlobeScan / SustainAbility Survey and part of Rate the Raters, Phase Five
A GlobeScan / SustainAbility Survey
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