The latest instalment in the long-running Girls-only shoe debate has been the introduction of boys’ and girls’ skateboards.
It was the latest twist in a decades-long debate about gender equality, with the UN last year calling for the compulsory wearing of boys-only playground equipment to reduce child abuse and exploitation.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has been lobbying for the introduction for some time, arguing that boys are often more likely to abuse the equipment and be exposed to physical and psychological risks than girls.
But the UN has been critical of the push, saying it does not do enough to promote boys’ inclusion in playgrounds and could cause greater harm to children.
In 2015, the WHO urged the global community to start promoting the inclusion of boys in playground equipment, saying that the “risk of abuse and injury” is “particularly high in boys, who may be more likely than girls to use the equipment”.
The UN said in a statement that boys were more likely “to have access to the equipment in playground settings, to be physically restrained, and to be exposed more often to physical violence”.
However, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) and others, including the UK-based organisation ActionAid, have argued that the need for more girls to play on playground equipment is “increasingly apparent”.
The IISS, which has a $3.5bn (£2.8bn) endowment, estimates that the number of girls playing in playground gear is up by 50 per cent since 1980, and the number is likely to double in the next 15 years.
“For girls to be playing on playgrounds, they are going to need to be involved in these activities,” said IISS director-general, Prof Paul Farmer.
“There are already significant numbers of girls participating in such activities.
The only thing that is stopping them from being involved in such a great deal of activity is that boys have been told to stay out.”
The issue has been a key topic at UN gatherings for decades, with a special report on the issue issued in 1990 by UNDP in which it urged the world to “promote girls’ participation in the development of playground equipment”.
But there is disagreement on what the UN’s definition of ‘boys’ or ‘girls’ should be.
Many argue that the word should be used in a neutral way, while others say it should be seen as a way of acknowledging the differences between boys and girls.
“There’s a strong difference between the terms boys and girl and their roles in society,” said Fiona Young, director of the Centre for International Development at the University of Manchester.
“If you say boys play, they do play.
If you say girls play, it’s not because you’re talking about boys or girls.
It’s because boys are being put at risk.
If we’re going to be promoting girls, then we need to change the way we define boys and that includes acknowledging the gender difference.”
For girls, it has been argued that boys can also play on the same equipment as girls, so the idea of using the term ‘boys only’ to refer to them is problematic.
A spokesperson for the UNDP said the organisation has a policy of using neutral terms to describe the gender differences in playground use, such as ‘girls only’, ‘boys on boys’ or other neutral terms.
“When discussing gender differences, we don’t use the word boys to describe boys, we use the term girls,” the spokesperson said.
In its report on gender equality and children’s safety, the IISS called for the use of ‘safe and accessible’ terms to be used when talking about playground equipment.
“It is time for a shift in the language we use to refer specifically to gender-based safety concerns,” the IIS report said.