Girlguiding is, as the title suggests, an organisation for girls and young women aged 5-25. The Guide Association started here in the UK, however has spread across the world. The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) boasts 10 million members in 144 countries. In the UK alone there are around 450,000 young members (aged 5-25), as well as many adult members who volunteer their time and resources regularly. As it stands, about a quarter of all 8 year old girls in the UK are Brownies, and Girlguiding as a whole is the largest youth organisation for girls in the UK.* Why is it, then, that people still ask me if it’s needed?
This is a matter that is incredibly close to my heart. I joined Brownies aged 8, just before a particularly difficult time in life. We won’t go into details, but Brownies provided a place where my self esteem wasn’t constantly taking blows to the head – and I just didn’t get that anywhere else. I didn’t go to Guides, purely because although my confidence had improved, the Guider for my Brownies’ sister unit was terrifying. Skip forward 4 years or so and I joined Rangers – right in time for the Centenary year. When I was 17 I started helping one of my Ranger leaders at a Rainbow unit, and a little over a year ago I started my training to become an adult leader for Brownies with a unit here in Aberystwyth. I started as a tiny, shy little girl and now I’m a slightly less tiny, much more confident Tawny Owl! Guiding has given and still gives me so much, and I love giving back by volunteering with them – which is why it is so frustrating that people cannot see all the hard work this organisation does.
Now, I know this seems hypocritical considering last week I was writing about how gender is unimportant in literature. Unfortunately in reality, however, we live in a male-dominated, sex-driven society which is often unwelcoming to young girls. Girlguiding allows for any self identifying females to have a safe space in which to develop, learn and just have fun away from their male peers. Of course, that isn’t to say that girls can’t be just as mean-spirited, domineering and competitive with each other – but a network of girls and women all over the world supporting each other and working together can only help stamp out the negativity nurtured by modern media in favour of celebrating other females.
Perhaps it is the organisation’s age that leads people to believe we’re insignificant – 106 years is a long time, and when mothers, grandmothers and even the Queen were members, it hardly seems cool now. People seem to think that Girlguiding hasn’t changed in that time; that we’re outdated, unchanging and disconnected from the modern world. Why is it then that The Scout Association, an even older organisation of a similar nature, doesn’t get the same questioning? Correct me if I’m wrong, but personally I’ve never seen any of my Scouting friends asked why their organisation is still around.
Yes, members may be taught traditional skills like cooking and crafting, but the point of the organisation when it was started was to allow girls to do everything boys could – and this still stands. Girlguiding offers girls the chance to go camping, try new sports, build fires, learn first aid and survival skills and so much more. At the core of leadership training is the girls themselves and how to involve them in decision making and building the term’s programme. Each section has different ways of doing this – Brownies have ‘pow-wows’, for example; not my favourite terminology, I’ll admit, but it is essentially sitting down with the girls and giving them the chance to tell us what they want to do more of.
A gendered organisation like this is intrinsically political. Guiding embraces this by allowing their members to discuss serious issues that affect them and the world around them. Senior Section members (aged 14-25) can train to become Peer Educators, and teach local units of all sections about a range of topics that interest and affect them, including sex and drug education, self- esteem and body confidence discussions and most recently mental health and wellbeing. These sessions are tailored for most if not all sections, and so girls as young as 5 are being taught about serious issues in a way that is accessible and understandable, and comes from other girls as well as adult leaders.
In a perfect world, this organisation wouldn’t be necessary. In our world, however, a world in which women are consistently dominated and silenced, even just in simple conversations, Girlguiding gives girls the space to develop and use their voices. Don’t try and tell me that that’s not something to be proud of.
Do you have a Guiding/Scouting story? I want to hear it, let me know in the comments!
See you soon,
* Figures were found here.