FEATURE: Looking beyond the girl guide stereotype

Sheffield Brownies
Sheffield Brownies

As one of Britain’s longest-running institutions, the image associated with girl guiding is often an extremely traditional one.

It is one which for many conjures up images of campfires, uniforms and activities that would not look out of place in an Enid Blyton book.

Sheffield Girlguides leader, Maisie Gleeson.

Sheffield Girlguides leader, Maisie Gleeson.

But while the girls are still taken on camping trips, and still earn badges that are later sewn on to sweatshirts - the organisation’s outlook on what it should offer its millions of members could not be more modern.

As Linda Grant, Guiding County Comissioner for Sheffield says ,the guides provides a ‘safe space’ for 3,500 girls across the city through which they are able to discuss personal issues around body confidence, mental health and bullying as well as getting involved with community campaigns and international issues such as female genital mutilation.

The 56-year-old said: “It’s about giving girls somewhere they can talk about the things that are bothering them away from school, away from those environments that might be creating problems for them.

“One of the best things that we do is the peer education network by offered some of the older girls, those who are aged 14 and above, which really seems to make the biggest difference to them.

I’ve been given some of the best opportunities I’ve ever had in the girl guides

Maisie Gleeson

“Body confidence is one of the main things the girls talk to us about.

“Our leaders have seen girls of brownie age, ones of as young as seven and eight, talking about worries around body confidence.

“We explain to them about how things they see on the internet are likely to have been photoshopped, we explain how there are lots of different body shapes, and as long as they’re healthy, they shouldn’t worry.”

Not only do the guides now place a greater emphasis on looking after the mental well-being of its members, but the programme is also shaped by the priorities and concerns of its girls and young women through an annual survey carried out nationwide every year.

Sheffield Girlguides

Sheffield Girlguides

“It’s through that they we learn what’s most important to our girl guides. It’s completely shaped by them, which is how it should be,” continued Linda.

Girls aged between five to seven are able to join Rainbows. Those aged between seven and 10 are placed in the Brownies. The Guides is aimed at females between the age of 10 and 14, while the Seniors includes young women between 14 and 25.

Leader at a Fulwood branch of the rainbows and senior sections of the organisation, Maisie Gleeson, says she thinks people need to look beyond the ‘stereotype’ when it comes to guiding.

The 18-year-old, who is about to embark on a mechanical engineering degree at the University of Bristol later this year, said: “I’ve been given some of the best opportunities I’ve ever had through the girl guides.

Sheffield Brownies

Sheffield Brownies

“As a leader you can choose what issues are important to you, and for me that’s things like mental health which is very close to my heart because I’ve got friends who have suffered with it.

“There’s a new campaign on it, which I’m hoping to teach soon, and it explains about issues with mental health - as well as what to do if you think you might be experiencing them yourself, and it also encourages the girls to teach their friends about it too. As a female-only organisation, Maisie says that while feminism may not be on the guides’ official programme it is at the heart of ‘everything’ they do.

She adds that its members are often given careers talks, particularly on entering into male-dominated industries, and some are even given the opportunity to take part in a ‘CEO camp’ where they get to meet female CEOs and learn about how they got to the top of their industry.

And not only has the ethos of the organisation moved with the times, but so has the type of trips it offers its members.

Sheffield girl guides have recently been on trips to countries including Mexico, Ethiopia, Russia, Switzerland, Holland, Denmark, Japan, India and Thailand where they meet with Girlguides from across the world, as part of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) and get involved with international campaigns

“I recently went to Thailand, where we went to schools and taught girls about campaigns around female genital mutilation and sexual health.

Sheffield Rainbows, Brownies and Girlguides

Sheffield Rainbows, Brownies and Girlguides

“We also taught them bits of English.”

For more information on guiding visit: Girl Guiding

Girl Guiding History

* Guiding began in the UK in 1910 as an organisation especially for girls run along similar lines to The Boy Scouts Association
* The Guide Association was a founder member of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) in 1928. 
* At the end of 2013, the Association had more than 553,000 members and continues to be the largest girl only youth organisation in the UK
* Around one in four of all eight-year-old girls in the UK are brownies
* Girl guiding is a charitable organisation and adult leaders are not paid for their time
* Girl guiding is a member of The National Council for Voluntary Youth Services (NCVYS)