In the news today, and on the radio, a question has been pulled into the spotlight “Is Guides and Scouts Relevant Today?”.
It surprises me that this question is even something open for discussion – and makes me think how sad it is that there are people out there who have such little contact with our movements to not realise the undeniable good we do for the individual youth involved at unit level, and communities at a local through to international level.
So – let me weigh in on this, I’m going to chat about Guiding – but please note that this is relevant to Scouting as well, we are both amazing movements.
Let’s start with a crash course in History.
Once upon a time there was an Englishman named Lord Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell (BP). He was a war hero from the Boer war, where he is famed for his part in the Siege of Mafeking. He noticed a gap in society for boys who had a set of life skills – such as resilience, confidence, and problem solving – and decided to do something about it. He wrote a book called “Scouting for Boys’ and ran a camp at Brownsea Island, and of the back of those two things Scouting “troops” popped up all over the country, and indeed the world. He decided to have a rally at Crystal Palace in London to meet some of these Boy Scouts to which 11000 Scouts showed up. And a small contingent of Girls.
The Girls informed he THEY wanted to be scouts too, and demanded to be allowed to partake in these programs. Impressed with their advocacy and courage BP went off with his sister Agnes and start Girl Guiding in 1910.
105 years later, an organisation born off the back of some strong voiced, passionate girls, services over 10 Million members word wide and in 142countries. Scouting services 40 million members. That’s 50 million people, worldwide, that firmly believe these Organisations have a point.
But why? What do we bring into society?
As an 8 year old my parents let me change my after school activity from Gymnastics to Brownies. I was shy, bullied, and lonely. I was scared to speak in big groups – and nervous about meeting new people. I loved camping and being creative.
In Brownies I quickly excelled – girls who didn’t speak to me at school were my best friends every Wednesday night – because at Guides, there are no enemies. My confidence grew and in time I even had enough confidence to make some friends at school, and to begin to speak up and eventually join acting classes.
At 12 I was asked if I would like to be a Pack Guide with the Brownie Unit I was part of – and I went back and began in a Leadership position as Quoll. I went all the way through Guides, as a Brownie, Guide and Ranger, and am now a Leader of the Guide and Ranger aged groups in the town I went through it.
Guiding has also given me the chance to run large scale events, to create programmes used across the state, to learn financial and people management skills, to travel around Australia – and in 3 months – travel to England where I will continue to volunteer for 6 months in Program Development. These skills are life skills. They are tangible Skills recognised by workforces, the public and society.
So, is Guides still relevant?
I’d say Yes.
The girls I work with come to me they are often incredible quiet and nervous, or have other traits that mean they struggle to make friends, or at school etc. I want to tell you the story of one of the girls we have, her name changed for privacy. Let’s call her Sam. Sam lives with her grandparents, and has had a bit of a rough start to life. She came to us at 7 with a tendency towards huge tantrums to gain attention, and a complete lack of confidence in anything she could do. Firmly believing she couldn’t achieve anything, and that she was not able to learn new things her confidence was so low. Over the last 5 years Sam has grown in to a gorgeous, confident, conscientious 12 year old girl. She is the first to give things a go, she is the first to put her hand up and ask a question if she needs more information. She has run nights at Guides, she has informed us “I am thankful for Guiding because it has allowed me to believe in myself”. She is the first person to volunteer to help if there are things that need doing, and the first to help another girl who is sad or upset. She is able to articulate how she is feeling, and to identify what it is she needs.
On the weekend I took Sam on camp – she was very very nervous about the high ropes, heights being something that she has always been completely terrified of. At a big state jamboree last year, she made it 4 rungs up a ladder before needing to be coached back down as she became paralytic with fear. We got to the High Ropes place and the tears started at the thought of putting on a harness – after a bit of a chat and a cuddle she decided to maybe try the “kiddie course” that wasn’t too high, and whose harness wasn’t as full on. She smashed it – after initial balking and just doing some elements she ended up doing the whole course – twice – including the zip line – before changing her harness for the proper High Ropes, and doing that twice too. She even started to give us all advice on the best way to do elements. I have never been so proud of a girl – or seen a kid be SO PROUD of themselves. Her grandparents didn’t believe it when they came to pick her up.
Is Guiding relevant? You CANNOT tell me that the experience was not life changing for that girl – never again will she be paralytic with fear at the thought of heights. And that’s thanks to the girls and leaders who gently supported and encouraged her.
So I’d say yes.
What about internationally? What do we DO?
Girl Guides Australia is a member of WAGGGS – The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. We are an international movement and our main goal is Non-Formal Education. This has been, and always will be, a forerunner in any situation. And it is implemented through My Path, My Pace. Basically our aim is to inspire kids to continually learn and question – to be curious and inquisitive and to challenge themselves constantly to develop their beliefs and knowledge through skills development and self-guided learning. (And I’d say that is relevant in any society!)
WAGGGS as an entity regularly produces programs and resources and campaigns that aim at being relevant to today’s society and girls and are consistently ahead of the world in many areas. In the ‘80’s WAGGGS was doing Environment long before anyone else was, in the 1920’s WAGGGS was encouraging girls to get out of doors and camp, to learn how to change their bicycle tire, to push the gender boundary. In short we have a history of creating Change Makers and advocates – girls and young women who challenge the accepted norms and push for change in the areas they believe are important.
As I just mentioned WAGGGS have always developed advocates – we are part of the United Nations and regularly speak and are involved in their conferences for example. Our three most recent campaigns – Free Being Me, Stop the Violence and the Global Action Theme – tie in with 3 incredibly relevant social justice concerns that our members feel strongly about – but also are relevant to each member of today’s society, male or female.
So to start I would like to talk about the Global Action Theme. In the year 2000 the UN and the leaders of the worlds countries got together and had a conversation about how the world was in a bit of a mess and that they should probably do something about it. So they came up with the Millennium Development Goals, or MDG’s. The MDG’s were a series of 8 goals that were aimed at levelling the field and making the world a better and fairer place to live, with the aim of being completed by the end of this year. WAGGGS was one of the first organisations to jump on board with the creation of the Global Action Theme (GAT) program, aimed at teaching Youth about the goals in language and formats that they understand. A badge was released for individual or unit level engagement and a series of conferences and workshops have been run across the world at all levels to engage girls and Young Women in the conversation and to energise them to create action projects and make change at whatever capacity they could and can to work towards these goals.
Although MDG’s are no obsolete – replaced with the Sustainable Development Goals, Girl Guiding worldwide has been part of that process – and will continue to work towards these and to help Girls have the skills they need to change the world how they want to.
Is Guiding still relevant?
I’d say yes.
So let’s chat about Free Being Me.
- A Dove Global Survey (2010) found that 6 out of 10 girls stop doing something they love or that will benefit them because they feel bad about the way they look.
- A World Association study (2013) of women and girls from 70 countries found that 45% of respondents think girls are held back from taking on leadership positions because of low body confidence.
- The World Association and Dove believe that every girl and young woman should be given the opportunity to fulfil her potential in life. Body confidence is an important building block of self-esteem. A young person with high self-esteem believes in herself and her abilities, and feels empowered to make her own choices in life, make her voice heard and make a difference to her local and global community.
Free being me is an initiative between WAGGGS and Dove focusing on body Image, and self-esteem issues amongst girls aged 7-14. It’s a program being run across the world, and is based around girls running it within their units and then taking the message and the positivity out into the community with a project or event of some kind.
The cool thing about Free Being Me is it isn’t just aimed at Girls – there are Co-Educational packs available with programs designed for groups of Girls and Boys – meaning Guiding is remaining relevant to all Youth and ensuring a wide reaching and lasting impact with this message.
Is Guiding still relevant?
I’d say Yes.
The third and final program is the newest – Voices Against Violence. Voices against violence is a program endorsed by UN Women each individual Member organisation (Country) needs to get permission from WAGGGS to run, and then have trainers trained properly by WAGGGS to facilitate it.
Girl Guides Australia has just finished this process and launched it over the last couple of weeks which is very exciting.
Voices against Violence is an international, non-formal co-educational initiative which engages girls, young women, boys, young men, adults, parents and the community in the conversations about violence against girls. Voices against Violence will be delivered through WAGGGS’ national Member Organizations, partners and governments.
The curriculum will help five million children and young people learn to talk about violence, understand its root causes, recognise their rights and develop the skills and confidence to access those rights for themselves and others. It will empower girls and boys, young women and young men to be leaders, to speak out and take action.
This curriculum provides interactive, child- and youth-centred ways for young people to talk about relationships, gender equality and abuse, within a safe and supportive environment.
Non-formal educational programmes make a difference.
To measure the effectiveness of the curriculum, WAGGGS has developed a global monitoring and evaluation framework that compares participants understanding and attitude toward violence against girls both before and after the programme. The monitoring and evaluation framework aims to contribute vital data to the global discussion of what are the effective measures to tackle gender-based violence amongst young people.
Is Guiding still relevant?
I’d say Yes.
So to finish I just want to bring it back into perspective. If you have a girl who is uneducated, has no voice and feels undervalued – then they are just one sad, lonely girl. If you have a world of them you have a problem.
What Girl Guiding does is focus on educating – in a non-formal setting – not just the girls who are members, but via ripple effect their friends and their friend’s friends, to be advocates. To follow their dreams but to stand up and speak out for what is important to them. To create social change for a better world – a brighter world – going into the future.
Girl Guiding remains relevant because of its courage to face and discuss the hard topics, it’s resilience to push through the stereotypes and its focus on each and every individual girl that crosses its path in whatever format.
Girl Guiding remains relevant because it allows each girl a place where they can Be. Them. Selves. With no need to even second guess. It
Girl Guiding remains relevant because we believe in every single girls potential. We believe that they are important. And we believe that they deserve meaningful experiences and interactions.
Next time you as the question “Is Guides and Scouts relevant today?” Maybe ask a Guide or Scout. Do some research because undoubtedly, the resounding answer, will always be….