Monday, 30 September 2013

Care Versus Control

It's another exciting day for Girlguiding, as the nation's largest charity for girls and young women launches another campaign to get the voice of its membership heard.

"Care Versus Control" is a new report that uses Girlguiding's "Girls' Attitudes Survey" data to show how young women view coercion, abuse and healthy relationships. It forms part of our work on the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) Stop The Violence campaign, and also highlights the importance of peer education in discussing issues of relationships and abuse with young people.

Some of the statistics are shocking:
  • Only 23% of girls aged 11-17 fully understood what an abusive relationship was
  • Only 18% of girls mentioned psychological or emotional pressures when asked about abuse
  • 12% of girls thought that telling you who you can and can't spend time with is ok
  • 21% said that telling you what you can and can't wear is acceptable
  • 21% said that calling you names could be ok
  • 22% thought that checking up on you and reading your phone was acceptable
  • 39% said that making you tell your partner where you are all the time is fine

Presumably, by reversing the presented statistics:
  • 4% think that kicking, biting or hitting a girl for talking to someone else at a party is ok
  • 5% think that it is sometimes ok to threaten a girl with violence for spending time with friends
  • 6% think it can be acceptable to threaten a girl into having sex in certain circumstances

The "Care Versus Control" report lays out what many of us youth professionals have known for a long time, and what Christine Barter (who conducts the NSPCC research on behalf of the University of Bristol) has also reported; young people want peer educators, not teachers or trained professionals.

In Girlguiding, we are lucky to have an established Peer Education system, with fantastic and fully trained young women aged 14-26 who offer sessions on various sensitive topics. I often find that this resource is underused, particularly in my area. It's an example I often point to when working with teachers; training older pupils to be mentors and session leaders will have multiple benefits.

Firstly, it allows the young people involved in discussion to open up in a way that they can't always do with their "regular" adult. Certain phrases, types of language and attitudes are often seen as unacceptable in a normal meeting or classroom environment. If we want our young people to be comfortable and open in discussion, they also need to be comfortable and open in the language they can use to facilitate that, and be free from judgement in that. Outside providers also free them fro lasting embarrassment with a face they have to see each week, as well as providing the trained "mentors" with valuable leadership and transferable skills.

Understandably, and quite rightly, the "Care Versus Control" report has sparked debate on Twitter, asking questions such as "how can we help girls to recognise abusive relationships?" 

One lady, who shall be called HH, replied "Ensure your own relationships are healthy and lead by example". I wasn't sure I agreed with this statement. In fact, I positively bristled at it, and it took me a little while to work out and articulate why.

As you may know, I'm a huge advocate for leading by example. I find that in my teaching and in my Guiding, I make it my personal motto never to ask my young people to do anything that I wouldn't be comfortable doing myself. I will offer them the chance, of course (I might not feel comfortable doing zip wire, but they still have the opportunity!), but a girl who is struggling with fear will never be forced into it.

So given my own love of this philosophy, and my pedagogical knowledge of the power of modelling, why is it that the "lead by example" response in this case caused so much discord?

Those without experience of abusive relationships often find it difficult to understand the pressures and the attachment that are part of them. It takes a lot of courage to recognise that your own relationship is unhealthy, because it's so easy to try and explain problems away as a rough patch, or something that will get better, or even something that he does because he loves you. And it takes even more strength to walk away from it. Sometimes, that's because you're in love and can't imagine life without them, sometimes it's fear of the consequences, sometimes it's more practical matters like wondering where you're going to live.

When I was younger, a male friend of mine decided he wanted to date me. He put a lot of pressure on me until I finally agreed (knowing I could break it off, because I was moving cities in a few weeks). He pressured me into things I didn't want to do, stopped me seeing certain friends, even sat in the back of my car as I drove an ex-girlfriend from Luton to Sheffield at 2am because he was insanely jealous and didn't trust me. He then asked my parents' permission to marry me, and they announced it locally without even asking. They offered me £50,000 to keep my mouth shut and go through with the wedding. Despite everything that man did to me, the knowledge that I would be financially secure was an incredibly tempting offer.

I knew that relationship was unhealthy, but I wasn't sure where to turn or how to get out of it. 

Women's Aid tell us that when we support other women, we should ensure we listen to their stories and we acknowledge their difficult, traumatic and frightening situation. We also ensure we tell them that no-one deserves to suffer abuse. But we must never tell them to leave the relationship, in case they aren't ready to take that step and in case it's removing another element of control in their lives.

You see, when you survive any sort of abuse, it becomes a matter of regaining control. What that control is, is specific to each individual. But by telling a woman to "ensure" her relationships are healthy, we are judging her relationships, telling her to leave those that are abusive and removing that element of control.

It is also a fine line between a statement that tells the woman to "ensure healthy relationships" and victim blaming. If it is the woman who has the responsibility to make sure her relationships are healthy, there is a subtext that women suffering abuse are to blame for not taking that responsibility. This is simply not true; it is always the fault of the abuser.

I can see where HH was coming from in her advice for other leaders. I can understand how leaders with healthy relationships can help facilitate discussion for others. But in some ways, isn't this somewhat like atheist leaders discussing faith with their girls? It may not be something that comes naturally, and may even be uncomfortable for some, but just because it is not an experience that you are living first hand, doesn't mean that you are in an unsuitable position to be facilitating exploration for others.

Of course, many leaders don't wish to share the personal details of their relationships with their units anyway. Some of my older Senior Section members were aware that I was dating a Guide leader from Leeds last year, but not all of them and certainly not my Guides. None of my girls are aware of my current dating situation and that's the way I like it. I certainly don't want to be "modelling" to my units using my personal life!

"Care Versus Control" is an incredibly important compilation of research, and shows the extent to which the current education system is failing our young people in terms of real-world education. However, the debates coming from this report and Girlguiding's tweets on Twitter also show how badly we need to educate our adults about the difference between empowering women, facilitating discussion and laying responsibility on the wrong parties.

You can read the full "Care Versus Control" report here

Monday, 23 September 2013

Nottingham Women's Conference 2013

As Finn MacKay told us at the start of Nottingham Women's Conference 2013 (also known as NWC2013), Nottingham is one of only a few cities that retains a feminist liberation network, and this conference was the first in the city for more than twenty years.

The event started on a high, MacKay introducing many women new to feminism to key issues that affect us, such as only 20% representation in UK government, 15-19% pay gap remaining even 40 years after equal pay legislation came into effect, the 3 million women affected by male violence each year and much more. Did you realise that there are more licensed lap dancing clubs in this country than rape crisis centres?

We were left with a challenge, for all those embarrassed by feminism and feminists. What is embarrassing about demanding basic human rights for all?

This was followed by addresses from three key speakers. Pragna Patel spoke eloquently on behalf of the Southall Black Sisters about her 34 year old organisation that supports women with a whole range of gender inequality issues. She spoke about their achievements in the forced marriage act and concessions in immigration law, as well as how immigration issues and criminalisation are intertwined with gender-based violence and inequality. We heard of of the dichotomy of familial roles in feminism, that they perpetuate and enforce inequality, yet also provide protection against it. And we were told of the importance of contextualisation, that feminism is not a clinical theory and needs to be discussed in a political context.

The second speaker, Dr Julia Long, spoke about objectification and how it disguises as much as it conveys. She showed how it normalises violence against women and how physical objectification (such as beauty regimes and fashion choices) are used to moderate and control not only physical abilities, but our intellectual and creative potential. Long showed the relationship between a dominant and subordinate group through three main factors; violence (asserting dominance), objectification (removing humanity) and submission (disguise and compliance). If women don't buy into the "dream", the subordination doesn't work. Long was a powerful and emotive speaker, telling the gathered women that, "ultimately, to render a person as an object is to kill them. It is about reducing us to dead bodies."

We also heard from Chris Herries, the chair of the Co-Operatives UK group, who spoke at length about the history of the Co-Op and how women have been involved. She, interestingly, agreed that the "lads mags" sold by the stores are indeed pornographic, and that we should all become members so we can complain, campaign and change as joint owners of the corporation.

All three women raised an important point, that resurfaced throughout the day in various workshops. Male violence against women, societal enforcement of gender-inequality against women is a huge problem that needs to be named. Though Theresa May and other politicians are telling us that they acknowledge the problem and the significant and disproportionate effect on women, they are trying to promote a gender-neutral approach. They want to discuss violence. They want to discuss forced marriage. They don't want to discuss who is doing what to whom. But if we remove the gender-issue, we a removing part of the problem, we are hiding it from view. We need to address it, name it and keep talking.

Lunch was a wonderful opportunity to network, and I got the opportunity to meet with people working in schools, organisations such as Equation, and the wonderful Roweena Russell, who already feels like a sister!

The afternoon was split into various workshops, run by different organisations. The first I attended was run by the End Victim Blaming campaign. We looked at the definition of victim blaming as well as exploring our own frame of reference and how that affects our ideas and attitudes. I took away several things from the workshop, including the idea of a group learning agreement and some of the things to include in it. I will be using that one tomorrow!

We are, as individuals, all controlled in our response to victim blaming by a personal frame of reference. This includes both internal and external factors and affects thoughts, feelings and behaviour. Our frame of reference is not fixed, but it can be hard to change.

For example, as a child I was constantly told that I would never be attacked because I didn't look pretty and I wasn't dainty. The consequence of this message was that I believed that I must have been responsible for my experience, because I couldn't identify with the idea of sexual assault. Another example given by EVB was the media's portrayal of a case, saying that a woman had been "flirting all night" which led to her policing her own behaviour and that of others.

We get messages from everywhere, from the fact that women are targeted about postal safety, that girls are taught in schools, messages from other women, even. Our culture grooms young women to believe in Prince Charming and fairy tales. Men are seen as our salvation, so it must be us who are broken.

We're not.

It was a deeply personal workshop for many of us. Though I now speak openly about my experience of rape eight years ago, and am starting to speak about my experience six weeks ago, it is still a challenge. And the thought of discussing personal references with strangers left me physically sick and shaking, a reaction that I've not felt in quite some time! Some women were braver than me, though. They shared their experiences and they were thoroughly supported in that environment.

We were left with advice, advice that seems simple and obvious, but advice that need to be taken. How can we support victims and start to challenge victim blaming?
1. Acknowledge and challenge our own beliefs.
2. Respectfull challenge others.
3. Change our own language.
4. Complain to the Pess Complaints Commission and services when we see victim blaming in media.
5. Believe and support victims. Tell them that you believe them.
6. Support EVB Campaign and spread the word.

I can't speak about the next section of the event, as I decided to take some time out for self-care at this point in the day. It was an incredibly useful time for me to reflect and take stock of what I had learnt and where I was emotionally. D and all at Nottingham Rape Crisis have taught me well!

I went back in for part of the campaign planning session, where a myriad of local and national causes were represented. Everything from fighting bedroom tax to the No More Page Three campaign, from writing a feminist publication to a female skills base... It was all there.

The second round of workshops meant going to see Equation for me. Equation works with young people on a range of sensitive issues, such s violence and self-esteem. The session was based around their secondary targeted Know More campaign and the importance of female networks.

Using NSPCC statistics, Equation stated that 27% of teenage girls have been raped and that 90% of domestic violence incidents have been witnessed by children. Again, they asserted the problem of gender-neutrality approaches to VAWG issues.

We were introduced to different protective factors which help young women avoid or cope with violence and were statistically proven. These were:
1) self esteem
2) belief in their own ability to cope
3) ability to deal with change
4) ability to problem solve

There were also existing factors, which included:
1) family cohesion
2) presence of at least one consistent adult in their lives
3) a close bond with the survivor (if violence had been witnessed)
4) strong support networks
5) out of school activities

We were told about the importance of female support networks and how they decrease isolation, provide a check-in point, enable girls to identify support and let them see value in being a women. It reminded me of how invaluable Girlguiding and other femal-only space really is, when it is used well! 

Social messaging also featured as an important part of the mix, how the genders are engaged in competition and taught differently about their worth and competency, as well as taught that girls shouldn't trust each other. Our society is constantly trying to break the bonds between women and isolate us.

Equation spoke to us about how creativity is essential in memorable projects with young women, and how it builds esteem. Their Know More project (looking at emotions, choices, aspirations and relationships) helped young women change how they saw themselves and others, improved friendships and how they lt about being a woman.

The closing remarks of the conference reinforced the message that we had been hearing all day. It is not feminism that silences women, it's the men that rape and abuse women who are trying to silence them.

I know there has been controversy surrounding the event, and I know it is likely to arise here, given what I've already experienced on Twitter. What I want to focus on now, though, is the opportunity that NWC2013 gave women to come and explore feminism in Nottingham, whether they have been feminists for years or have not explored issues before. The event was massively over-subscribed, which is a testament to just how much interest and demand there is for these conferences, and a number of organisations and speakers who could have delivered workshops were encouraged to run fringe events as an alternative because the organisers simply did not have the room physically or temporally!

If there is anyone who wants to get involved, there is still time. There are fringe events running into next month, and I am sure planning will soon be underway for next year's event.

For now, though, I'm going to go and hide... At least until tomorrow!

Sunday, 22 September 2013

New Beginnings

I've been waiting for a while to blog, because I wanted everything in life to be tied up neatly in a little bow. I wanted life to be like a story, with a happy ending, or a solid chapter break.

But life doesn't work like that, and one event bleeds into the next, with ties and things linking into your past, present and future. I like it that way, with themes and connections, keeping you anchored.

I have now finished my face to face counselling at Nottingham Rape Crisis Centre. I feel positive about that, in a strange way, like it's time to have an adventure on my own, or something. I'm sort of curious about how I'm going to cope. I still have support networks, but it's different. I have to get used to life without D.

Our last session was great. I gave her a Girlguiding Thanks badge, to acknowledge her impact on Guiding, along with a card signed by the unit and many others in the organisation. She was incredibly moved by it. I introduced her to my camp blanket and showed her all the wonderful memories and bits that make up me. Then we made badges for it, mine showing the tree I made for her early on in our relationship, and hers showing a jigsaw piece. This was both a gentle dig and a reminder - just after I made the tree, she tried to get me to complete a jigsaw of all the feelings that made up me. I never finished. So this badge represents that, and the fact that D is now a part of me forever. It also had a symbol for "hug" on there... It was brilliant. I gave her the gift that I made over summer, and she gave me a beautiful doll that she had made just for me, that she called Henrietta. I was completely blown away and it is probably the single most touching thing anyone's done for me.

But it's not a neat ending. There are things still happening, and part of our journey that still needs closure. I don't know whether I will have that in days, weeks or months, but it's not quite over yet. There is one more thing to slot into place, the same thing that I've been waiting to share here, and still can't.

I have a feeling it will never completely be over, though. Two weeks ago, we bumped into each other in her town, when I was on a date. This week, we ran into each other in the supermarket car park... Intuition tells me that fate will throw us together when we need that little reminder.

And just like life, this post doesn't really have a neat ending or a happily ever after. It is what it is; a short update to tell you about the not-quite-ending and not-quite-beginning. And, for anyone wondering, I did finally renew my Promise and promise to be true to myself! I did it in my way, with my person, in my time.

Writes For Women

When I first started my advocacy work for Stop The Violence, I was aware that I was a small voice in a big pond. I was also under the (false!) impression that my personal experience made me weak and stopped me from making a difference.

I felt like my aims needed to be small and local, so I started attending local feminist events and meetings, to network and to see where we could become involved. 

After a while, I met the organisers of the Nottingham Women's Conference, who were looking for fringe events. I spoke to my lovely writers' group and we agreed to host one together. It was exactly what I wanted; small, local, no pressure.

Writes For Women was the first event that I organised or agreed to, but as you know, not the first that  took place. It might seem insignificant, given Nine Worlds in London, or my Ranger Volunteer day at Nottingham Women's Centre, but Writes For Women holds a special place in my heart for being the first.

What made the event special wasn't the number of people participating, but the number of people who weren't writing, but engaged with the event anyway. We had leaflets and fact sheets about gender inequality laid around our venue, and evy time I walked round, people were talking. Really talking and discussing the problems. Because an event like this isn't just about the writing, or the money, it's about opening discourse on taboo subjects.

I spent my weekend writing about my personal experience of gender inequality and violence. I chose it knowing the impact certain blog posts have had on women and how female networks decrease the sen of isolation. At some point, I will share this work, though the format mains to be seen. My challenge was to write 10,000 words in two days. To put this in perspective, when we do the NaNoWriMo challenge in November, we say writers should aim for 1,125 words per day. It was a huge challenge, but a huge achievement when I succeeded in under 27 hours of my 48 allocated.

So far, the group has raised £172 for Nottingham Rape Crisis. There are writers donating to other causes too, but I'm incredibly proud of this. If you do want to add to this total, please feel free to visit this Just Giving page.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Being True To Myself

I fell in love with the new Promise for Girlguiding the minute that I heard (or rather, read) it. Personal, inclusive, it was everything that I had hoped for; a commitment that both my friends and I could make on equal footing.

Except I haven't yet.

It may seem odd to some that such a vocal supporter of the new wording has yet to renew her Promise, but the simple fact is that I'm not sure I'm ready.

I fully intended to renew on Cardiff Bay at midnight, the moment it came into effect. It would have combined my Showmasters family with my Guiding family, at a significant place and time. It would have been quite perfect. But my friends were drunk and I was unwell, so it fell through.

The next plan was to sit with my counsellor and renew it in session, because some of the wording rang true with our journey and our discussions. And it just so happened that she started to talk about being true to oneself, making me smile and we talked about what it meant to each of us.

So far in Guiding, I've heard people talk about being true to oneself as being about integrity and standing up for one's beliefs, but to me it's more than that. It's so much more personal, and somehow harder than promising to love my God (though, really, the latter does encompass the former).

Being true to myself involves knowledge of who I am, it means understanding myself as a person. Not just in terms of my moral compass and my framework for life, or my spiritual life, but it means understanding my emotions, my feelings, caring for and connecting with myself.

It's something that I have struggled with a lot throughout my journey with D. I much prefer to bury emotional responses, to assign a logical reason for everything, and I have to constantly remind myself that it's okay not to be perfect, and it's fine to feel. I'm at a place now where I do challenge myself about how I feel, I am more aware of what I want, what I fear and it's all part of building and maintaining a relationship with myself.

Those relationships are so important for our young members to develop, given that it's something that society almost encourages us to bury. Constant reminders to "grow up", "stop being a baby" or "grow a pair" constrain us and hinder our journey with ourselves.

It's the aspect of the Promise that is (and will probably remain) the most poignant for me, and I desperately want to be able to make it. But after sitting for an hour, struggling to vocalise my current predicament, trying to be "strong" and "independent", I realised that it's not a commitment I was quite ready to make at that point, that I would feel hypocritical promising to be true to myself when I was doing everything in my power not to be.

But, of course, that's where the other essential part of our Promise comes into effect. Because I'm not meant to be perfect, I'm not meant to be superwoman. I am just me - a girl with a lot of baggage - and our Promise reflects that too. Because I'm not promising to "be true to myself" at all, I'm promising "to do my best to be true to myself", and that is a very different thing indeed.

Despite the arguments I've heard, it makes perfect sense that being true to oneself exists within the framework of the Promise and Law. We put so much emphasis on looking outward in Guiding - we develop our beliefs, serve our community and help others - but we have to remember to care for and retain a sense of self throughout that. Without understanding our needs, our desires, our feelings and our own sense of right and wrong, we can't go out into the world and make the change that we want to see.

I hope that in the coming weeks, I will feel able to renew my Promise. I hope that I will find the right place, time, context and that I will be comfortable making that commitment to continue that relationship with myself as well as with my God.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Unblurring the Lines

Once again, I find myself proud to be a part of Girlguiding, as we have just undersigned the Telegraph's campaign for better sex education in schools as part of the national curriculum. I agree, as I have stated in support of Campaign For Consent, that better sex and relationship education in this country. But a conversation that came out of this discussion had me worried.

It was suggested that the issues of consent, sexual assault and rape should be addressed as sex education, under that banner. Although enthusiastic consent can be partly discussed in terms of healthy relationships, I don't feel comfortable with this overarching banner.

Why not? Because it seems to fit, doesn't it?

Well, yes. And that is part of the problem that needs to be addressed. Our society currently has such a phenomenal misunderstanding of what rape, sexual assault and consent are, that it is not just a part of "sex education". 

We need to show that sexual assault and rape do not equate to sex in any way. Penetration does not equal intercourse. The blurred lines between sexual encounters and sexual assault in our society are harmful to those who experience it and to those around them. In a world that classes rape as a sexual act, women who feel they are unattractive cannot fathom that they might have been assaulted, or feel ridiculous for reporting it. In a world that classes rape as a sexual act, it is glorified and revered in the media. And in a world that classes rape as a sexual act, both men and women are reduced to the worst possible stereotypes of their genders. If these beliefs and reactions are prevalent in society, they are perpetuated and reinforced, leading to a seemingly unbreakable chain.

By including rape, sexual violence and consent as part of sex education in schools, rather than as part of the wider PSHCE (personal, social, health and citizenship education) curriculum, we risk reinforcing the notion that violence is a sexual act rather than one of control. We create yet another generation who fail to see the distinction, and we fail in our duty of empowerment.

When I took my Senior Section members to the Nottingham Rape Crisis Centre in July, they thought they were pretty clued up. But even they assumed that a woman could not be raped by her partner, as she had already consented to sex. They assumed that if a woman consented, then changed her mind, the man had every right to continue, as she had agreed to sex initially. These are the effects of the blurred lines caused by classing rape as a sexual act rather than one of power and control.

It is important that young people are aware of consent within relationships and, with that in mind, it should be discussed as part of healthy relationship education, but much better that than reducing a serious, violent crime to "sex" once again.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

How to Spot a Guide

Back in 2010, not long after rejoining Girlguiding, we celebrated "Vision". Vision was our centenary finale, celebrating 100 years of the UK's largest charity for girls and young women, and ringing in the next hundred! In Nottingham, Vision was a wonderful event with several thousand members in the city centre. My Brownies rode in on an old London Routemaster, decorated in centenary coloured ribbons and bows - they felt like princesses on a parade!

The following day, I was teaching in a local primary school, a lovely CoE school in the village down the road. I had always noticed certain characters in the school, that they had a certain quiet self-assurance about them and a gift for group work that was particularly impressive amongst the younger ones who often struggle to share and work together. That day, the headteacher had a very special theme for the assembly; he asked that everyone who had their special item in their pockets stand up and put them on. Suddenly, these girls who I had seen as emotionally developed beyond their years all stood up. And the items they put on were their pink neckerchiefs from Vision the night before.

It was this assembly that started me thinking about Girlguiding and the many benefits that we offer young people. Because as much as it's seen to be about the activities (whether they be adventurous ones or more service based), there is something running deeper than that.

In a secondary school I taught at not long after, I had a similar experience. I was teaching music and each group had to put together a composition. They had their task and success criteria, but were largely left to their own development. Those groups with Guides in them had the organisational skills to break the task down, to assign roles, and the confidence to assert themselves as well as support others in their group who were more nervous.

Similarly, this last summer, my new GCSE German group had two young ladies who I instantly recognised to be Senior Section members, before they even told me. How could this be possible?

It's because, right from the start, we use our five essentials. A varied and balanced programme is just one of the five, and it is important to give our girls challenge, variation and opportunity. But we look after each member as an individual to build their self-esteem. It is often thought by education professionals and behavioural psychologists that children with higher self-esteem and stronger support networks tend to thrive at school, that they are calmer, more thoughtful and engage more consistently with their work. We teach them to work in small groups, both as leaders and as team members. Sometimes this involves team games, sometimes it involves problem solving and sometimes, as with my Rangers, it involves them each planning an evening for the other girls. And we also ask our members to govern themselves as much as they can, as early as they can. It may mean choosing their favourite activity, or a sixer that takes a register each meeting, or it could be a Senior Section member taking some responsibility for the unit budget. But they are making the decisions, they are leading, they are learning to look after others as well as themselves.

Girlguiding has a holistic approach to child development - teaching about relevant issues in a non-formal environment, offering new activities as well as encouraging transferable skills. And part of this holistic approach, of course, is our fifth essential, the framework for our organisation - our Promise. We show girls that their beliefs and their own world views are important, that to look out and understand and help the world, they need to look in and understand themselves too. We teach them the importance of community, help them explore morality, honesty, how to overcome challenges, what it really means to try their best.

One of the additional key elements of Girlguiding's ability to develop the girl, in my experience, lies in the simple fact that it's not school. I have worked with Rainbows, Brownies and Guides who have struggled academically for various reasons, but have thrived in Guiding without the pressure and expectations that accompany targets, assessments, constant reminders about spelling and punctuation. I have worked with several of my Brownies and been surprised by the notes left for me by their class teachers and even said, "Did you know that L is really good at this?" And the knowledge that they are valued members of a community, that they have their own strengths and abilities, builds their confidence at school and helps them face their everyday challenges with grace and determination.

And, of course, the girl's unit - whether it be Rainbows, Brownies, Guides or Senior Section - is a safe, girl-only space. So often there is a huge gender-divide in the classroom, one that is often (consciously or not) compounded by the staff in there who reinforce the stereotypes and the thought that boys should be louder, more boisterous, more confident. Girlguiding allows development space away from these stereotypes and pressure. 

If only every girl got that chance.