Society

France Takes Fight Against Sexism All The Way To Nursery School

Boys will be boys. Girls will be girls.
Boys will be boys. Girls will be girls.
Gaëlle Dupont

SAINT-OUEN - At what age does gender inequality take root? As early as the crib, according to the staff at one nursery school in Saint-Ouen, in the northern suburbs of Paris. Bourdarias nursery school was the first pre-school establishment in France to adopt an anti-sexism policy, in 2009.

France's Minister for Women's Rights Najat Vallaud-Belkacem and Dominique Bertinotti, minister for family policies, visited the nursery last Friday, aiming to put its pioneering work into practice across France. Only one other nursery in the region follows a similar policy.

"We will never achieve gender equality if we don't break down stereotypes from a very young age," declared Vallaud-Belkacem.

"Our goal is to give children the fundamental skills that they will need growing up," explains the nursery's head-teacher, Haude Constantin-Bienaimé. "Yet, we've observed that from a very young age, girls and boys do not have the same self-confidence." For instance, when the children watched a video that featured a ghost, the girls gathered around the adults and said that they were scared, whereas the boys rushed the screen, trying to hit the ghost.

Children learn through imitation

Natural behavior? Not exactly. "The child learns through imitation; the influence of adults is important," analyzes Mrs. Constantin-Bienaimé. "We are training our children according to our own ideas and according to what society expects of each gender. Little girls have to be sweet and kind, little boys have to be brave." Parents are not the only ones responsible. Teachers, the media, children's books, and the baby-care and toy industries all bombard kids with stereotypes.

Visually, the nursery looks like any other. There are the usual toys. The nursery school's "active equality education" tries not to lock children into presupposed roles -- pink tea sets for girls, blue trucks for boys. However it does not deny the differences between the two sexes. "We try to have toys which are as neutral as possible, but without completely banning dolls and garages," explains David Helbecque, a pre-school teacher. "We simply teach girls that they too can play with toy cars, make noise, yell and climb. Boys who want to play with dolls are encouraged too."

"The point of this type of education is to allow each individual to widen their possibilities," says Geneviève Cresson, professor of sociology at the University of Lille I and a specialist in infancy and social differences between sexes. "Sexism diminishes girls' chances, but is also harmful for boys, as they are taught that aggressive behavior and bottling up emotions are normal." Play kitchens and DIY tools are offered to both sexes.

Girls are pretty and boys are strong

The anti-sexism policy is applied to every aspect of the preschool: the children’s activities, the relationship between adults and children, and even everyday words. "Girls are often described as pretty, whilst boys are described as strong. This is a classic example of stereotyping," says Mrs. Constantin-Bienaimé. The staff received training from professionals from Sweden, a country that is incredibly advanced in these issues. "Adults have to make an effort themselves to take into account their own unequal treatment of girls and boys," says Cresson.

In Seine-Saint-Denis, where the nursery is based, and where there are 55 other nurseries, the municipal government has helped develop this initiative. "The nursery is now part of a wider program," explains Stéphane Troussel, the region’s president. "We also have a program to combat sexism in secondary schools and an observatory for violence against women."

The nursery's task also requires the cooperation of the parents. In this suburb outside of Paris, a mixture of young professionals and social housing projects, the work of the nursery has been warmly received. Some people are even moving to Saint-Ouen because of the nursery, and with only 45 places, it is being besieged by applicants.

Professionals are convinced this sort of idea promotes respect between the two sexes, and can even reduce violence committed against women. However, it should be generalized and be continued throughout the education system, which is not the case at the present.

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Future

How China Flipped From Tech Copycat To Tech Leader

Long perceived as a country chasing Western tech, China's business and technological innovations are now influencing the rest of the world. Still lagging on some fronts, the future is now up for grabs.

At the World Semiconductor Conference in Nanjing, China, on June 9

SIPA Asia/ZUMA
Emmanuel Grasland

BEIJING — China's tech tycoons have fallen out of favor: Jack Ma (Alibaba), Colin Huang (Pinduoduo), Richard Liu (Tencent) and Zhang Yiming (ByteDance) have all been pressured by Beijing to leave their jobs or step back from a public role. Their time may be coming to an end, but the legacy remains exceptional. Under their reign, China has become a veritable window to the global future of technology.

TikTok is the perfect example. Launched in 2016, the video messaging app has been downloaded over two billion times worldwide. It has passed the 100-million active user mark in the United States. Thanks to TikTok's success, ByteDance, its parent company, has reached an exceptional level of influence on the internet.


For a long time, the West viewed China's digital ecosystem as a cheap imitation of Silicon Valley. The European and American media described the giants of the Asian superpower as the "Chinese Google" or "Chinese Amazon." But the tables have turned.

No Western equivalent to WeChat

The Asian superpower has forged cutting-edge business models that do not exist elsewhere. It is impossible to find a Western equivalent to the WeChat super-app (1.2 billion users), which is used for shopping as much as for making a medical appointment or obtaining credit.

The flow of innovation is now changing direction.

The roles have actually reversed: In a recent article, Les Echos describes the California-based social network IRL, as a "WeChat of the Western world."

Grégory Boutté, digital and customer relations director at the multinational luxury group Kering, explains, "The Chinese digital ecosystem is incredibly different, and its speed of evolution is impressive. Above all, the flow of innovation is now changing direction."

This is illustrated by the recent creation of "live shopping" events in France, which are hosted by celebrities and taken from a concept already popular in China.

10,000 new startups per day

There is an explosion of this phenomenon in the digital sphere. Rachel Daydou, Partner & China General Manager of the consulting firm Fabernovel in Shanghai, says, "With Libra, Facebook is trying to create a financial entity based on social media, just as WeChat did with WeChat Pay. Facebook Shop looks suspiciously like WeChat's mini-programs. Amazon Live is inspired by Taobao Live and YouTube Shopping by Douyin, the Chinese equivalent of TikTok."

In China, it is possible to go to fully robotized restaurants or to give a panhandler some change via mobile payment. Your wallet is destined to be obsolete because your phone can read restaurant menus and pay for your meal via a QR Code.

The country uses shared mobile chargers the way Europeans use bicycles, and is already testing electric car battery swap stations to avoid 30 minutes of recharging time.

Michael David, chief omnichannel director at LVMH, says, "The Chinese ecosystem is permanently bubbling with innovation. About 10,000 start-ups are created every day in the country."

China is also the most advanced country in the electric car market. With 370 models at the end of 2020, it had an offering that was almost twice as large as Europe's, according to the International Energy Agency.

Photo of a phone's screen displaying the logo of \u200bChina's super-app WeChat

China's super-app WeChat

Omar Marques/SOPA Images/ZUMA

The whole market runs on tech

Luca de Meo, CEO of French automaker Renault, said in June that China is "ahead of Europe in many areas, whether it's electric cars, connectivity or autonomous driving. You have to be there to know what's going on."

As a market, China is also a source of technological inspiration for Western companies, a world leader in e-commerce, solar, mobile payments, digital currency and facial recognition. It has the largest 5G network, with more than one million antennas up and running, compared to 400,000 in Europe.

Self-driving cars offer an interesting point of divergence between China and the West.

Just take the number of connected devices (1.1 billion), the time spent on mobile (six hours per day) and, above all, the magnitude of data collected to deploy and improve artificial intelligence algorithms faster than in Europe or the United States.

The groundbreaking field of self-driving cars offers an interesting point of divergence between China and the West. Artificial intelligence guru Kai-Fu Lee explains that China believes that we should teach the highway to speak to the car, imagining new services and rethinking cities to avoid cars crossing pedestrians, while the West does not intend to go that far.

Still lagging in some key sectors

There are areas where China is still struggling, such as semiconductors. Despite a production increase of nearly 50% per year, the country produces less than 40% of the chips it consumes, according to official data. This dependence threatens its ambitions in artificial intelligence, telecoms and autonomous vehicles. Chinese manufacturers work with an engraving fineness of 28 nm or more, far from those of Intel, Samsung or TSMC. They are unable to produce processors for high-performance PCs.

China's aerospace industry is also lagging behind the West. There are also no Chinese players among the top 20 life science companies on the stock market and there are doubts surrounding the efficacy of Sinovac and Sinopharm's COVID-19 vaccines. As of 2019, the country files more patents per year than the U.S., but far fewer are converted into marketable products.

Beijing knows its weaknesses and is working to eliminate them. Adopted in March, the nation's 14th five-year plan calls for a 7% annual increase in R&D spending between now and 2025, compared with 12% under the previous plan. Big data aside, that is basic math anyone can understand.

https://www.lesechos.fr/idees-debats/editos-analyses/la-chine-est-desormais-une-fenetre-sur-notre-futur-1347064
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