What kids think about domestic violence
'The world has been extremely unfair to women': Year 5 and 6 students at Wiley Park Primary School talk about what they found out about family violence during a program run by local police and women's support groups.
The Australian toy industry has rejected suggestions there is a connection between the types of toys boys and girls are encouraged to play with and domestic violence.
In a tough-talking submission to a Senate inquiry, the Australian Toy Association said it "strongly rejects any links" between toys and the "ongoing problem[s] of domestic violence and gender inequality".
Mother of two girls and a boy, Shannon Watts of Dulwich Hill, said she didn't think what children played with had "any bearing on their propensity to violence."
Although her daughters Taitun 9 and Faryn 4 may have been given traditional toys such as dolls, they didn't always play with them in a traditional way.
"I have a son and two daughters, and their play has always been self directed," she said.
The Toy Association's submission came in response to a Greens-initiated examination of domestic violence and gender inequality, which includes the role of messages conveyed to children through the marketing of toys.
Parent advocacy group Play Unlimited is calling for an end to the "segregation of toys along gender lines" arguing "strongly stereotyped toy marketing" perpetuates "harmful stereotypes" and "emphasises the differences between boys and girls".
But the Toy Association, which represents 90 per cent of Australian toy sales, dismissed the idea. The industry body said toys were "vital for child development," adding that a child's current and future behaviour were "influenced more by their family, environment, schools, the mass media and level of social support, rather than the toys they play with".
It added that toy manufacturers were already becoming "more gender inclusive" in their advertising. This includes Mattel having a boy star in a Barbie ad and Toys "R" Us removing gender labels from its catalogues and website.
The owner of Monkey Puzzle Toy Store in Summer Hill tries to avoid gender stereotypes, although it is not always easy.
"We don't go there is the boy section or there is the girl section," said Pamela Blyton, who owns two Sydney toy shops. "If someone comes in asking for a gift for a girl, I wouldn't automatically say 'here is a doll.' But I may suggest a puzzle or ask what that girl is interested in."
Yet people still come in determined to buy something pink for a girl, said Ms Blyton.
She was doubtful about whether gendered toys led to domestic violence. "Toys are only a small reflection of what's happening in society. And there are so many other influences, including how someone is encouraged to play with a toy."
In its submission to the inquiry, Play Unlimited warned there was a connection between stereotyped children's toys - like Barbies for girls or trucks for boys - and "cultural conditions" that support domestic violence.
Play Unlimited, set up by parents Julie Huberman and Thea Hughes, said retailers were using 1950s-era stereotypes to sell toys.
"Anything to do with domesticity, beauty and nurturing is allocated to 'girls', while the 'boys' section contains toys which encourage action, violence, building and construction."
While some toy sellers, such as Target and Big W, no longer have toys marked as specifically for "girls" or "boys" on their websites - others, such as Toys Paradise and Toy Universe have sections that differentiate toys along gender lines.
This includes sporting equipment, guns and trucks for boys, and dolls, makeup and craft projects for girls.
While Play Unlimited does not argue playing with a Barbie or a truck will lead directly to domestic violence, they say they encourage stereotypes that in turn, promote gender inequality.
"The World Health Organisation recognises the link between gender inequality in the community and violence against women and children."
Mother of two, Kathryn Howley, says she "absolutely" notices the way toys are marketed towards boys and girls and even segregated into separate departments in some big stores.
"I am always really mindful of what kind of toys I buy for the kids. For [seven-year-old] Spencer when he was really younger, I was conscious of him not having too many superhero and action toys that carry violence.
"With the girls' toys often it is about looking pretty and not actually doing something. And I find that a bit disturbing because it does set them up to be a trophy wife, with a domineering personality in the male."
Mrs Howley has noticed that classic toys have changed since she was a child and have become sexualised with big eyes and big hair.
"When you and I were young, My Little Pony was a pony. This afternoon I was in a supermarket and now it's a morphed into teenage-girl-pony with a bit of a pose and hair and make-up. [Toy makers] have taken a lot old characters and amped them up a bit."
Mrs Howley has worked in product development for baby and toddler toys and can see an innate tendency in boys and girls to head towards certain types of toys.
Greens co-deputy leader Larissa Waters said the "positive progress" made by some toy retailers was encouraging.
But she added: "Kids' imaginations should not be limited by stereotypical labels and limits."
Senator Waters said these "end up costing parents more, as marketers' push the expectation that families with boys and girls need two sets of toys".
The committee is due to report back by August 24.
With Lucy Battersby and Julie Power