“Diversity is not girls versus boys”

If the mix has been introduced since 1975 in the school, it does not guarantee equality, the High Council for Equality between Men and Women noted in 2017. Teachers, like society as a whole, propagate sexist stereotypes. “In CP textbooks, women represent 40% of the characters and 70% of those who cook and clean, but only 3% of the characters occupy a scientific profession”, HCE illustrated.

It also depicted “a highly gendered playground geography”, with boys “taking over most of the yard with moving and noisy play”.

A doctor of geography, Edith Maruéjouls founded the Equality Observatory Research Workshop (Arobe) in 2014. For twelve years she has been looking at playgrounds, as “real miniature public spaces”, “are the site of the first inequalities, especially between girls and boys”, she says. By analyzing these spaces together with the children and the educational teams, she makes them rethink the use of the land, so that everyone finds their place there.

Succeed in making the school a place where girls and boys play together to prevent violence later. This is the goal pursued by Edith Maruéjouls, who this month publishes “Make I(u) equal: design spaces at school to include all children”, published by Double Punctuation. She proposes solutions aimed at making schools more inclusive. For the girls. For the boys – a lot – “who are not good at the ball”. To all the students who, because they have a disability, are left out.

You have worked with the distribution between girls and boys in the public space, which is very unequal. Why are you, together with local authorities, particularly interested in the playground?

This is the place where children will learn how public space works. The 1975 law making co-education compulsory in schools could have changed things. But we didn’t put a plan in there. The school, outside of teaching hours, struggles to achieve real diversity and equality, on the playground, in the canteen.

Mixing is not 50-50, or girls versus boys. The goal is to get the children to play, eat, laugh…together. It is the absence of relationships between girls and boys that later creates violence. Since co-education is not the norm, strategies must be developed to promote it by creating spaces where girls and boys can “play together”.

There are many strategies to succeed in making the space of the farm a place of well-being together, egalitarian, peaceful and joyful. Because that’s also the question: Many children are bored at school because they don’t have space for the games they want to play, or even suffer from the injustices they witness.

In the method we have developed, we talk a lot with the children to understand how they occupy the space. From there, we propose a week of experiments, by setting up a quiet room here, an intermediate place there – with board games – elsewhere a collective playground. This allows everyone to find their place without being pushed by others.

Is this enough to create new relationships between girls and boys?

None. Deconstructing sexism and hierarchy (between the weak and the strong), to truly share space between all, is a long walk that requires a plan of action. I work a lot with the facilitators outside because the lunch break is the ideal time for this, it’s a long time to build a relationship.

For example, we are talking about how to choose a game to play together, by negotiation or by spinning the “random game wheel”. This slightly upsets the balance of power. And often children are involved, because even those who love football like to play something else.

“Making Equality” is not only about ensuring that so-called “boys’ games” open up to girls. It is also to ensure that the boys are permeable to the girls’ world that they find that what they are offering is valid. Otherwise, this process later finds itself stealthily in the political space and in the civic space, where women are invisible.

Does this require large investments from local authorities?

You don’t always have to destroy a court to make it fair. And before work begins, if necessary, it is important to experiment to see how the children use the new facilities. For example, in one of the municipalities where I intervened, the technical services helped us create a quiet zone, by installing shavings, logs. On the first day off, it became a playground for the children – girls and boys!

Having said that, it is an observation that I systematically make, children need greenery, flowers, shade… Plants make living spaces aesthetic, they appeal to the senses, they bring this quality of life which is essential psychological and moral well-being. The green areas, which are worked in such a way as to promote the mixing of girls and boys, are immediately taken over by the children. But revegetating and “doing equality” are two separate professions. They do not call for the same expertise.

You devote your entire last chapter to toilets, which you almost make a topic in itself. What is the problem here?

The way toilets are managed reveals the resistance to settling the issue of girl-boy ratio today. By separating girls and boys, it is as if we have to solve all of society’s problems, to avoid violence and harassment. By doing this, a 6-year-old girl is told to be afraid of a boy. And to the boy that he is a potential aggressor for this little girl. Today, while toilets are single-sex, eight out of ten children prevent themselves from going to the toilet.

The handling of the toilets has made invisible the real problems that arise from classical sociological processes: the toilets are a place of harassment and uncertainty because it is a place of impunity. The boys, who are modest at that age, tell me: There is an order to use the urinal. To me it’s the same parallel as when boys say they’re afraid to jump rope. They don’t go into the cabin because “that doesn’t happen when you’re a boy”. And when they enter the cabin, the others knock on the door.

Opening the blocks may seem like a matter of common sense. But it is not that simple. I am in favor of experimenting where possible with diversity in toilet blocks. And if it is necessary to consider a separation, it would be much more relevant to separate the young and the old. Because in the testimonies that I have collected, the little ones say that they are afraid of the big ones.

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