How Spain’s new toy gender neutrality law works

Cars for girls, dolls for boys and no more pink and blue. For Spain's left-wing government and the toy industry, it's game over for gender stereotypes when it comes to the country's littlest citizens.

How Spain's new toy gender neutrality law works
Under the new code of ethics, advertisements can no longer say a toy is for a particular gender, or designate pink for girls and blue for boys, which is deemed to reinforce outdated gender roles (Photo by THOMAS COEX / AFP)

Since December 1st, a code of ethics has been in place encouraging toy shops and manufacturers to “avoid gender bias” when marketing toys in Spain, in guidelines agreed with the consumer affairs ministry.

Toy Planet, a Spanish chain based near the eastern resort of Valencia, has been following this strategy for the past decade in adverts for its own-brand toys.

Flicking through its catalogue, one image shows a girl with a toy gun wearing a police vest, another shows a girl hitting a punchbag, while another portrays a boy pushing a pram.

“Toys play a very important role in what sort of adults we become. So let’s not be the ones to create prejudice from such an early age,” said Toy Planet’s director Ignacio Gaspar.

“It’s important if we want to see a future in which a boy could become a midwife or a girl could become a mechanic.”

What drove the change back in 2012 was the realisation that Toy Planet was coming under fire on social media for its unimaginative publicity.

“We started using images that were the opposite: boys playing with dolls, girls using tool benches,” Gaspar said.

But the switch wasn’t easy.

“People said it would make boys more effeminate or turn girls into tomboys,” he said.

Out with the pink and blue

A pioneer in feminist initiatives, the government of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has pushed through several schemes to tackle gender-based violence as well as advancing equality and women’s rights.

Under the new code of ethics, advertisements can no longer say a toy is for a particular gender, or designate pink for girls and blue for boys, which is deemed to reinforce outdated gender roles.

Signed by the Spanish Association of Toy Manufacturers (AEFJ), which represents 90 percent of the industry in Spain, it took a year to draw up, said Rafael Escudero of the consumer affairs ministry.

But its scope remains limited since it does not affect packaging, street advertising or toy shop catalogues, Escudero added.

There are no sanctions for those who fail to comply, who only run a “reputational risk”, and major international brands are not affected.

“It’s obviously not enough but it’s necessary if we want to move forwards,” said Escudero.

On Gran Vía, Madrid’s main shopping street where people are out Christmas shopping, Julio César Araujo, 62, has a clear idea of what to buy his grandchildren.

“For the girls, it’s dolls and things like that,” he says, then adds: “But if you have a girl who wants to play with cars, you’ll buy her a car. If she wants to play with boys’ toys, she can.”

‘An educational responsibility’

Nathalie Rodríguez, 48, owner of Kamchatka which sells “educational, non-sexist, environmentally-friendly and non-violent toys”, believes toy sellers have “an educational responsibility”.

“Toys themselves aren’t sexist, but it’s the way they are perceived by the adults that design and make them, who sell and market them,” Rodriguez explains.

“A catalogue with a picture of a boy wearing a baby sling is what we’re aiming for.”

Rodriguez says that with some customers, she will “gently try to break down silly ideas.”

“When a grandfather says he doesn’t want a cooker because he’s buying for a boy, you tell him it makes no sense in a country with the highest number of internationally-recognised chefs,” she says.

Tania San José, a 41-year-old mother and teacher from the northern town of Pamplona, thinks it’s about time the government stepped in with some rules.

“Unfortunately, there are still toys for boys and toys for girls but in our generation, we’re trying to change that,” she says.

Ángela Muñoz, 47, believes society has evolved a lot already.

“I could buy a doll for my son so he could have the chance to play like the girls do,” she said.

“That way both sexes have the same opportunities to play.”

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Spain is the second most expensive country in the world to get married

Getting married in Spain is now twice as expensive as it was a decade ago, but the spike in prices has done little to slow the post-pandemic rush to the altar.

Spain is the second most expensive country in the world to get married

Despite its reputation as one of Europe’s more affordable countries, Spain certainly isn’t a cheap place to get married.

In fact, according to data from Statistica, it’s the second most expensive place on the planet to tie the knot, following the United States. In Spain, the average wedding now costs almost €22,000, with many events costing as much as €30,000, depending on how extravagant the bride and groom are willing to go.

READ ALSO: The ultimate guide to Spanish wedding etiquette

According to figures from The Knot Worldwide’s ‘Essential Book of Weddings‘, the average price of a wedding in Spain has increased by around €1000 compared to 2019, reaching around €21,500.

Spain leads countries including France (where the average wedding costs €16,500), England (almost €18,000), Italy (third on the list with €21,000) and Canada (€20,500), despite all these countries surpassing Spain in almost all economic indicators, and especially in terms of average salary.

Yet Spaniards seem to have no problem splashing out on their wedding day.

In fact, according to’s ‘Wedding Price Index‘, Seville is the 4th most expensive location in the world to tie the knot, trailing only the exclusive Hamptons in the US, Positano in Italy, and Fogo Town in Canada. In the famously romantic Andalusian city, a wedding with 100 guests can cost a whopping €34,000.

Prices on the up

But the trend is much deeper than the recent inflationary shocks and goes back a decade. Ainara Regueira, a wedding planner, told Spanish outlet La Sexta that “ten years ago a wedding could cost between €10,000 and €12,000 and now it’s around €22,000”. 

And it seems that nowadays Spaniards want more extravagant weddings, with some events taking on a festival-like feel, rather than the traditional service and reception. “Now they want lights, lasers, [something] known as ‘crazy hour’,” Regueira says, adding that it’s almost more like “being at a party in Ibiza than at a wedding”. 

Lights and fireworks shows, drone camera footage, classic cars and costume changes, weddings in the social media age aren’t what they used to be, and are getting more and more expensive as a result. Roberta Orta from Infinita Viajes explained to La Sexta that some Spanish weddings have even become like concerts: “The bride and groom are looking for a DJ with a lot of street cred, and professional musicians…that can cost up to €30,000”. 

Post-pandemic boom

Despite the rise in costs, weddings are actually booming in Spain, particularly after the pandemic. After weddings were cancelled throughout 2020, in 2021 weddings in Spain increased by 60 percent compared to 2020, according to a recent INE report, and the boom has continued into 2022 and 2023.

READ ALSO: Civil union or marriage in Spain: which one is better?

Perhaps love is in the air. Perhaps the pandemic forced people into action. Perhaps people managed to save up enough money during the lockdowns to actually be able to afford a wedding.

Whatever the reason, and despite the recent surge in costs, in reality, expensive weddings are nothing new in Spain, and Spaniards have never been particularly frugal when it comes to celebrating. As you might have noticed when it comes to baptisms or first communions, the Spanish are not shy about going big for these events. Nor are they concerned about splashing the cash and making it a day to remember.

In fact, very few countries celebrate these milestones with such extravagance and decadence while simultaneously disregarding their own personal finances. Simply put, for Spaniards no cost is too much on their big day.

Cultural explanation?

Luis Ayuso Sánchez, professor of Sociology at the University of Granada, explained to El País that traditionally this extravagance comes from the importance of family in Spanish society. “When two people got married, their family network expands. That’s why it was important for the whole town to go to the wedding, for everyone to find out. It was a way to show society the support network.”

Generally speaking in Mediterranean countries, Ayuso adds, societies are more family-oriented than in northern Europe. “In Spain, the support network has been fundamental historically, because there was no welfare state, and that was replaced by the family. This is very much within our culture and to some extent, it is still maintained, as we have seen with the crisis, unemployment, covid… The family is still very important. Hence, the ritual of marriage, which symbolised relational support, remains strong in Spanish society.”

Inviting all those aunts and uncles and cousins is, of course, more expensive.

But the upward trend in weddings (their frequency that is, not the price) is likely a short-term trend. Looking at broader trends, marriage rates have been in near free fall since the 1990s, according to a study ‘The Evolution Of The Couple in Spain’ by the BBVA foundation.