What do you think of when you think of Girl Guides? Doing your Hostess badge and learning to make cups of tea in a church hall, maybe. Or sewing Mother’s Day presents or gathering around a toadstool to sing songs.
But over the last few years, Girlguiding (the organisation that oversees Rainbows, Brownies and Guides, along with the Senior Section) has undergone a change that you might not have noticed.
Girlguiding have become activists. They’re radically changing the conversation, and they’ve got clout. Their campaign for better sex and relationships education in schools was hugely successful – for three years, they pushed and campaigned for young people to have the education they need to make informed decisions about sex, and after passionate advocacy, the change was made in 2017.
More recently, the organisation has joined the movement to end period poverty. What makes this move all the more striking is that it was led by Girlguiding’s Advocate Panel, made up of young members aged 14 – 25. The Panel say:
“We believe that periods are normal – not embarrassing! So, we are asking Girlguiding units to talk openly about periods, and for school curriculums to include more information about periods, taught to everybody, not just girls. We want period products to be accessible for anyone who needs them. They aren’t a luxury but an essential”.
One in ten people surveyed by Plan International UK had been unable to afford period products at some point, and 49% has missed an entire school day because of their period. So, what are Girlguiding actually going to do about it? Members in Guides and above – so, aged 10 and over – are being asked to collect period products for their units and local foodbanks, and to tackle the issues around taboos and stigma, both in the UK and internationally, in their weekly meetings. With nearly half a million members across the country, that’s a big discussion that they’re starting, and one that’s vitally important. As part of the campaign, Girlguiding are calling for the governments across the UK to provide schools with specific funding for period products for pupils that need them and, just as importantly, for comprehensive education to be provided to all students about periods. And there’s even a badge!
This year alone, the organisation has been heavily involved in the Vote 100 commemorations, teamed up with Google for a new badge on coding and digital skills, worked with easyJet on an Aviation badge to get more girls interested in flying, and announced a new badge for Guides to help encourage financial responsibility and money management.
But why tell you all of this? Well, it’s Volunteer Week this week (1 – 7th June). Maybe you’ve thought about volunteering before, maybe it’s never crossed your mind. It had never crossed mine either until I met some Girlguiding volunteers recruiting in the shopping centre in my town. I thought I’d pop along to a unit for a session just to see what it was like. That was three years ago and it’s safe to say that I won’t be leaving any time soon. To be part of an organisation that values and lifts up the voices and opinions of women and girls, that allows for adventure and innovation alongside tradition, is an opportunity that doesn’t come around very often.
“We’ve done everything from codebreaking to clay modelling, from feminist history to fencing, from sleepovers to snake handling.”
I volunteer as a Brownie Leader. Our girls are between 7 and 10 years old, and they’re hilarious. They’re silly, bright, messy, complicated, and they love slime, ice cream, and Wink Murder. We try extremely hard to give them a varied and interesting set of meetings each term, so we’ve done everything from codebreaking to clay modelling, from feminist history to fencing, from sleepovers to snake handling (supervised, of course). We’ve taken adventure holidays and swimming lessons, circus classes and theatre trips, and learnt about space travel and engineering as well as sewing and cooking.
I started volunteering as a Leader during a difficult time in my life. My mental health was pretty poor, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to hack it, but it turns out it saved me. It was something fun, a bright spot in my week. Planning for meetings gave me a purpose, a goal, and something to look forward to. And it turned out I was really, really good at it. I was suddenly in a situation where I was being encouraged to share my passions for history, science, nature, and so many other things, with children who were – not to blow my own trumpet too much – captivated. A week after a session on “women who changed the world”, one of our Brownies came along to the meeting with two sides of meticulously researched writing about the female codebreakers at Bletchley Park. Her mum told me she’d been talking about my meeting, and the women she’d learnt about, all week long. Another girl had given an entire presentation about things she’d learnt in her school assembly. You can’t ask for better than that.
I used to pride myself on being busy all the time, and if you’d asked me before volunteering whether I had any free time, I would have laughed in your face. But finding a couple of hours a week to run my Brownie Unit has made me better at planning my time, and I think it’s made me a better person. I am more patient, kinder, more considerate in my actions. I am also a passionate advocate for the girls I work with. I never thought volunteering was for me, until I started this position. If you think you might have a spare couple of hours a week, and you fancy getting involved with an organisation that is genuinely working towards making a better world, maybe Girlguiding is for you too.
For more information about volunteering with Girlguiding UK, visit: https://www.girlguiding.org.uk/get-involved/