Girls allowed, but Guides keep the door closed on boys

Girl Guides have always been a pretty inclusive lot.

In the UK alone, the organisation boasts half-a-million members, 100,000 trained volunteers and provides activities for those aged from five to 25. However, there has always been one group who have never been welcome to share the fun. Boys.

Set up in 1910, the guiding movement has spent more than 100 years fiercely protecting its single-sex status, and amid a raft of new rules and regulations regarding equality, it hasn’t always been easy.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

However, while back in 2005 the resolutely all-male Royal and Ancient Golf Club formally abandoned its ban on women competing in the Open Championship, and Scout groups followed suit two years later, the Guides have always stood firm.

Boys have always been persona non grata and it looks like that’s the way it’s going to stay. While it may not be what equality groups or co-educational champions want to hear, according to Chief Guide Liz Burnley, there has never been more need to keep boys out of the organisation, which recently celebrated its centenary.

“As the largest organisation for girls and young women, we have been empowering millions for 100 years and we will continue to do so as a girls-only organisation throughout the next century,” says Burnley, pinning her colours quite firmly to the mast before she steps down from her five-year term of office in May.

“Today, our young members are still telling us that enjoying a safe girl-only space is one of the things they value most about the guiding experience.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“I strongly believe that in today’s world there remains a vital role for such a space, where girls can learn, have fun with their peers and just be themselves during a formative time in their lives – without the pressures of having boys around.”

Certainly, Girlguiding UK would need something of a radical makeover if most teenage boys were to be convinced their spare time was best spent acquiring badges for their cake-icing abilities or tapestry skills.

For the organisation’s leaders, however, while the activities are important, the weekly meetings and occasional camping trips are much more about providing a refuge for young girls away from today’s celebrity-driven culture.

While the basic philosophy of the guiding movement remains unchanged, in recent years, the group has become increasingly political.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

In the summer of 2010, it launched a campaign against the practice of air-brushing of celebrity photographs. A petition boasting more than 25,000 signatures was delivered to Number 10 and the organisation is calling on David Cameron to introduce compulsory labelling in magazines to alert readers to the kind of altered images which it said are putting “damaging and unrealistic pressures” on young girls.

By way of illustration, its own research recently revealed girls as young as 10 are concerned about their weight, with half of 11-to-16-year-olds admitting to eating less to stay slim. More than 1,000 of its members were questioned and, of the 16-to-21-year-olds who took part, half said they would consider surgery to change their looks.

“We know that girls are growing up in ever-changing, increasingly complicated times and, as adults, we must listen to their views,” says Cathy Fraser, head of the Girlguiding UK’s youth panel, Advocate.

“We have now conducted two annual surveys to attempt to paint a picture of the attitudes of the young and girls are telling us that the world they are living can be extremely stressful, which can lead to a range of unhealthy behaviours and outcomes.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“Working closely with girls and young women, we are all too aware of the pressures they face to conform to a certain body image and how badly they can be affected by these unobtainable ideals.

“Activities like guiding can encourage girls to accept themselves as they are. It is about being able to boost their self-confidence without cosmetic surgery and giving them the opportunity to fully develop and become confident members of society.”

The origins of the guiding movement can be traced back to 1909 when a group of frustrated girls decided to gatecrash a Scouts’ rally.

Their demands were simple. They wanted their own organisation which provided something purely for the girls. For the foreseeable future at least, it looks like that’s the way it’s going to stay.