If you were a woman you were not allowed to vote. You were not allowed to graduate from Oxford – although you could attend lectures. You could earn £12 a year as a maid, if you were lucky to get that work (about £1,310.74 in todays currency). Your life expectancy was 55 years old.
You didn’t really have a voice. If you were married you were still considered the “possession” of your husband. As a girl you were lectured on what was “proper” and ushered towards the skills that would make you a good home maker and it was not widley considered appropriate for you to get an education, as the jobs were all set aside exclusively for men.
In a world where women were undisputedly seen as second class citizens a Man in a khaki hat and shorts had started a movement of the boys of England, and the wider world as it spread.
After a successful camp at Brownsea Island in 1907 Lord Robert Baden-Powell had begun the Scouting for Boys movement and it had taken off like a river rushing down a mountain, growing quickly as more streams joined it.
In 1909 he held a rally – a gathering of sorts, to meet some of the thousands of boys who had registered as Boy Scouts.
As Lord BP (as he is affectionately known) walked up and down the rows of Boys, inspecting their uniforms and stopping to chat he came across a small contingent that surprised him.
Because they were Girls.
Girls dressed in khaki skirts, with the trade mark staff in their hands and hats pulled over their head.
“Who are you?” the founder asked.
“We are the Wolf Patrol of the Girl Scouts.”
In a world where women could note vote, were not educated, were expected to stay indoors and darn socks for the most part. A small group of girls stood proud, their backs straight and announced that THEY wanted to do what their brothers, cousins and friends were doing. That THEY were just as capable.
These girls wanted to take control of their narrative. They wanted the chance to take risks. They wanted a chance to learn and grow. They wanted a chance to develop skills that would help them in real life situations. They wanted a chance to have adventures.
And so the Girl Guiding movement was born.
Growing as rapidly and as quickly as the Scouting movement it is what we are today – an organisation of passionate, enthusiastic, determined and capable girls and young women. 10 million strong. In 150 countries.
It’s 109 years since that day at Crystal Palace, and our organisation is continuing to give to Girls that chance to grow, develop, take the lead and take risks.
On an international level we sit as one of the united Nations big six organisations, and the largest female volunteer organisation in the world.
We attend United Nations conferences and advocate for human rights, Sustainable Development Goals, and global change for peace and prosperity.
We have 5 world centres worldwide, in Europe, Africa, Asia and North America which serve as venues for top class leadership training and development, program delivery, and conferences and learning spaces.
We were one of the first organisations to produce, train, and deliver an international program for youth – girls and boys – aimed at educating and speaking out on violence against women with Stop the Violence.
We are partners with Dove, running world wide programs to battle self esteem issues and the concept of “beauty” with Free Being Me.
World wide our girls are standing up for what they believe in, they are showing confidence, compassion, and are quick when a call to action is given in any situation.
We are a movement that won’t be slowed.
And on a local level?
On a local level we are to each girl, what they need us to be.
We are the person that will take the time to ask them how their week has been.
We are the first place they stand up in front of their peers and talk about something they are passionate about, or teach their peers a skill they have.
We are their first night away from home, the first bag they pack themselves.
We are the first time they don’t say “I can’t do this” but instead announce “I think I’ll give it another go”.
We are the place they build the friendships that last through all their life – school changes, state moves, puberty, ups and downs.
We are the place where the small spark of their spirit is feed lovingly and carefully until it grows into the brightest light – the light that will burn bright and is fuelled by their passion and enthusiasm. A light that will guide the world.
Tomorrow is World Thinking day – a day celebrated world wide by all members of the Guiding and Scouting Organisations. It’s a day where we all reflect on the lessons we’ve learnt by being part of either movement, the friendships we’ve grown, and the adventures we’ve had.
And why am I – a 26 year old young woman, still a Girl Guide after 18 years?
Because our organisation was built off the back of a small group of brave girls, who stood up and took control of their own lives. Their own learning. Their own future.
Because of the deep, ingrained belief I have in an organisation that continually grows, continually develops, and continually empowers each and every single girl that walks into a meeting – no matter their age, or where they are in the world.
And because I believe in our girls, and through them, I believe in the future of a world that is run by their bright spirits, the huge hearts, and their incredible compassion and confidence.
So, if you are a Girl Guide wear your badge, scarf, or uniform tomorrow with pride. Remember the beginnings we grew from, the impact we’ve had, and the future we continue to build.
And if you’re not a Girl Guide – you’re never to old to make your promise, and get involved.
Because – oh what an Impact we’ve had, but oh what an Impact we are still yet to make.