Girl Guides do more than just tie knots and sell biscuits at bring and buy sales. From supporting refugees and saying “no” to violence, today’s global Girl Guides and Girl Scouts are part of an inspiring movement committed to campaigning for girls’ rights.
They’re stopping violence in Sri Lanka
Girl Guide Chamathya has made it her mission to put a stop to violence against girls in Sri Lanka. As a coordinator for the Voices Against Violence programme, a joint venture from the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts and UN Women, Chamathya is helping children and young people explore the root causes of violence against women and girls and showing them how they can tackle it.
“In Sri Lanka, girls face harassment on a daily basis while commuting on public transport and even when accessing public spaces. It’s at risk of becoming normalised in my country. Whether verbal or physical, sexual harassment is a violation of women’s rights,” she says. “I want to change this culture of silence. I want girls and women to realise they are allowed to have a voice, share their experiences and speak up for their rights.”
Lucy, from Malawi, has been a Girl Guide for four years. During her time, she has helped to set up girls-only clubs, so they have a space to discuss issues such as sexual health and menstrual hygiene.
“Talking about sex and menstruation can be tough for some girls. They can find it highly embarrassing, or because of the taboo nature of the subject, it may be something they know nothing about,” she says.
Lucy has been working with her team to set up projects that deliver comprehensive sexual health and menstrual hygiene education for girls. One of the projects involves training teachers, leaders, mothers’ groups and girls in the sewing of reusable sanitary pads as well as providing the sewing starter packs.
“Our projects aim to ensure adolescent girls are informed about and empowered to access health services that address sex education, reproductive health rights, HIV/AIDS, and gender-based violence for girls who are both in and out of school. We really want girls to participate and take on leadership positions within their schools and communities.”
Olympia, from Greece, is educating girls from her country on the refugee crisis, empowering them to volunteer in camps and make a difference.
“Anyone could end up a refugee. If I was born in another country I could have very well suffered the same fate. As a Girl Guide leader, it’s my role to educate girls about the refugee crisis and give them the opportunity to support those in need,” she says.
“Groups of Girl Guides, age 14 to 17, go to the islands where refugees stay and distribute food and aid,” Olympia adds. “Our aim is to make refugees feel as safe and comfortable as possible. We also work with the children to help them express themselves and feel safe, as well as teaching them basic Greek so they can communicate with others.”
In Tunisia, it’s hard to find work if you’re a woman. “Many people in my country believe women should stay at home and look after their children rather than go to work,” says Naouel, a Girl Scout leader from Tunisia. “Even if you’ve been to school and completed a degree, it’s still hard to get a job.”
According to Naouel, unemployment increased after the Tunisian revolution in 2011 and it had a bigger impact on women than on men. In a joint venture with the YMCA Scouts in Denmark, Naouel and her team developed the project Future Leaders of the World.
“This project is designed to empower young people – in particular girls – with the skills and competencies to set up their own business, which will lead to self-employment as well as creating jobs for others,” says Naouel.
“We’ve given these young people self-belief and boosted their self-esteem. Girls and women deserve the chance and the opportunity to put their skills and knowledge to good use, so they can enjoy a better standard of living.”
Mirna, from Bolivia, became a Girl Guide when she was six. It’s a movement that’s inspired her to fight for what she believes in – and that involves campaigning about climate change.
“In Bolivia, the ecosystem is so diverse that villagers depend on it to survive. Unfortunately, the impact climate change is having on the ecosystem is being felt most by the poorest communities who are finding it the hardest to deal with,” she says.
“Among the poorest communities, girls are most vulnerable. As the effects of climate change worsen, it’s the girls who will have to shift activities to help their communities. This means they might have to drop out of school to collect water, leaving them vulnerable to early marriage, or become farmers to help families make ends meet.”
Mirna has been educating Girl Guides from her community on climate change. “I want to influence as many people as possible to care about biodiversity related issues and I want to keep motivating my Girl Guides to work on environmental issues. The number of those interested in this work is definitely increasing.”
To mark International Day of the Girl 2016, the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts has launched #TeamGirl, a campaign that highlights girls and young women tackling real issues and making a difference in their communities today and in the future. To find out more and join the movement, visit www.wagggs.org/teamgirl8057 Views