More Australian male advocates for play needed

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Recently attending the International Play Association World Conference in Calgary, Canada I couldn’t help but notice firstly how small the Australian delegation was and also how few of them were men (thank you Marcus). You may think this a strange angle to take, because surely what’s important is what we are doing on the ground at home regardless of who is doing it, but I beg to differ I think it makes a big difference…politically.

Over 40 countries were represented at this conference which brings together the latest thinking, advocating and doing on play around the world. If I look at the UK as an example their delegates are made up of academics, social researchers, play workers, educators and designers, many of them male. The USA, Canada, New Zealand, Japan the same.

I’m not saying that men aren’t heavily involved in the play sector in Australia at all. Having recently attended a Level Two Training Session with Play Australia the room was full of men. Men designing, building, managing and auditing playgrounds, not men involved with children playing directly, researching or advocating for it however. I think this says something about Australian culture as a whole and might go someway to explain why we have to justify and quantify play as being about health outcomes or education to get play on the agenda. If 50% of our population won’t stand up and say that play is important because it is just that, play why on earth would politicians (who tend to be predominantly male) do likewise?

So is play just the realm of the mother and family, or dare I say woman? No of course it isn’t. The wellbeing of our children and the future generations of our country is everyone’s concern and in the 21st century where gender equality in the workplace and marriage equality are such hot topics this should be painfully obvious, but sadly it doesn’t seem to be.

To give you an example, our board at Play Australia has only one male representative currently, our wonderful tirelessly generous treasurer who works in playground manufacturing. Over the years it has had many men move through it’s ranks most of them fitting within the roles listed above, but the base has been predominantly women. I’m hoping that in future years this will change. Recent elections at the IPA have seen Australian Robyn Monroe-Miller elected as world president, but who knows maybe the next IPA board representative will be a man? I think we still have someway to go.

The UK has a long history of playwork and social research, both fields strongly represented by both men and women and as such many policy changes around the holistic impacts of ‘play’ (not ‘education’ or ‘obesity’ or ‘safety’ etc)  that have been adopted at the highest levels of government. Marc Armitage, a Brit of playwork and research background has in recent years settled and called Australia his home to promote and support playwork in this country, but I’d like to see more.

In Australia research seems to be limited within educational disciplines or the health sector most of which seem to be heavily weighted towards women. This particularly pertains to early childhood which has been the powerhouse of play in Australia for generations. There needs to be more support for men to participate more fully in the conversation around play and not just talk about tangibles and technicals such as standards, design or maintenance. I mean actually talking about ‘play’.

The quality of development in public open space and environments for play are improving all the time, but our cultural knowledge of why its important to give children time and space for play is sadly behind the eight ball and with the economic bottom line encroaching more and more at all levels of life in Australia from housing, employment, to education I can’t see this improving anytime soon. The impact on our kids is already evident with increased mental and physical conditions, youth suicide etc.

So lets aim towards a more well-rounded conversation in our country on ‘play’ into the future involving everyone and then maybe by the time the next IPA Conference in Jaipur, India roles around Australia will be able to present a more representative delegation in support of ‘play’.

Liz Cummins attended the IPA World Conference in Calgary, Canada in September 2017 presenting on ‘Positive Adversity and Play’

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Image courtesy of Ninja Mommers