For anybody who hasn’t seen it – This is in response to Lucy Mangan’s blog post which I’d suggest people read first. http://www.stylist.co.uk/people/lucy-mangan/even-the-girl-guides-is-kowtowing-to-the-modern-world#image-rotator-1
Last year 8,000 new members joined Girlguiding UK and around half of the women in the UK have been a member at some point in their life. Despite being the largest organisation for girls and women in the country a lot of people have preconceptions about Guiding and unfortunately Lucy Mangan’s article is a fairly typical response from someone with little experience of the organisation as it currently is.
Firstly, we’re hardly a ‘bastion of conservatism’ and I don’t think that term could ever have accurately have described us. For the last 100 years we’ve put girls in the lead, encouraging their potential and celebrating their achievements regardless of their background, race or sexual orientation. An example of this is that the national HQ have released guidelines encouraging members who identify as LGBT+ to attend ‘Gay Pride’ events in uniform to show how varied an organisation we are.
The specific resources mentioned in the article include ‘Glamourama’ and ‘Passion 4 Fashion’ and admittedly these names may be overly fluffy but they’re part of a balanced set of activities girls can do. Lucy only just touched on the variety of opportunities we offer members. Whilst a healthy lifestyles badge might at first glance only be about eating your 5 a day and doing exercise, it in fact looks at the issue of eating disorders and positive body image. The ‘Together We Can’ resources look at how girls can play a role in achieving the millennium development goals and ‘Me in Mind’ gets older girls to find out about mental health issues. We have badges and challenges for girls that centre on science, discovering different faiths and independent living and even a resource dedicated to looking at the traditionally male dominated area of careers in the construction industry.
I’m not sure how long it’s been since Lucy Mangan actually went to a guide unit but I can assure you that we’re still proud to be the type of environment where girls can be themselves and develop in a girls only space free from the type of pressures they can encounter in school. In fact, I believe that at the heart of Guiding are some intrinsically feminist values. For example, from a young age girls are encouraged to decide things for themselves and are given leadership roles and responsibility. Self-worth and self-belief are two values promoted through small achievements such as badges as well as larger awards for older members including Duke of Edinburgh and the Queen’s Guide Award.
No one’s denying that the over sexualisation of young girls is an issue and the portrayal of women in the media is definitely a problem. But to use Girlguiding UK to demonstrate this, as anyone with any involvement in the organisation will know, is far from the truth. Every year the organisation carries out Girls Attitudes surveys which seek to understand what issues are important to girls as well as finding out how they feel about certain aspects of their life. Following on from research in 2009, which highlighted body image as a concern, the organisation campaigned in 2010 against air brushing which involved petitioning the Prime Minister as well as bringing the issue to many people’s attention. We’ve always been an organisation at the forefront of giving girls and young women a voice in the UK as well as sending delegations across the world – in fact, some members have only just returned from the UN Women’s Conference in New York a few weeks ago.
We’re part of a wider network of women’s organisations over the world under the umbrella organisation World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) whose current campaign is against violence of any form towards girls and women. Some of the latest activities units are being encouraged to do involve teaching girls when to recognise violence in its mental and physical forms and what to do in that situation.
In conclusion, even if people’s perceptions of Guiding are rooted firmly in the past, Guiding itself has moved into the 21st century and is tackling problems head on.
Rachael Graham (Guide Leader, 7th St Pancras Guides)
More information on the organisation www.girlguiding.org.uk