Interview with Nicola Grinstead, Chair of World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts
- We work together and we are all focused on our ambition
- Like the Tsunami, the war period here in SL always impacts disproportionately on girls
- They can meet and share information from different countries
- when they come to the Girl Guides they are in a girl only space where they can genuinely be themselves, they can relax, grow in confidence
Nicola Grinstead is the Chair of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) and the Deputy Chief Executive of the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. She was here in Sri Lanka to celebrate the Sri Lanka Girl Guides Association’s centenary year. Speaking to the Dailymirror, Ms Grinstead explained the importance of Girl Guides in our society especially in a day and age where women are still fighting gender stereotypes and other gender based issues.
QWhy is it important for young girls and women to have a movement like the Girl Guides Association?
The global Girl Guides Movement is the only movement in the world that is open to every single girl who wants to be a member. And that is because we genuinely believe that the experience you get as a girl guide provides the skills, the experiences and the confidence one needs to fulfil one’s potential as a young woman in the community that one lives in. It’s really important for a young woman to be able to take control and make sensible choices in her own life as it impacts positively on her, on her family, her peer group and the community that she lives in. By supporting one young woman, you support the community to thrive and that is really important.
QWhat kind of action has been taken by the WAGGGS in order to empower young girls and women, especially in a world where women are facing issues such as gender- based violence and body shaming?
Firstly, the global organization takes a lot of care to ask young women what the most important issues are to them,what are the things that they are worried about and what the global organization should be doing in response. Across the whole world, the two issues that the girls have been telling us about are ending violence against girls and body confidence. You see that there are really difficult statistics of how girls and young women are not participating in society because of the way they look and the body shaming that comes with that.
In response to this we have started two projects.One curriculum being, “Voices Against Violence”, where we have made a global partnership with UN women, which teaches girls and young women that it’s not okay for them to be treated with violence and bullying. And we are giving them the tools that they need to stand up for themselves, to stand up for others, so that they can take action locally and they can start to change the way that society thinks about violence. At this moment of time there are 11 young women in New York for a Commission on Status of Women lobbying world leaders in order to engage girls and women in being a part of the solution and they want world leaders to listen to them, to support them, to make a change that they want to see.
In terms of body confidence, WAGGGS partnered with a personal care brand, have made a global partnership called “Free Being Me” which teaches girls and young women that it is much more important to value what you do, the skills that you have and how you can contribute to make a difference than it is to think about the way that you look. Otherwise, all of their energy goes into that and then they’re losing their confidence because they can’t deliver such aspirations. So we’re refocusing their minds on realizing that it is in making their skills and values more important. 3 1/2 million girls across the world have participated in delivering in this programme. And they have got a badge to say that they have participated in the programme.
QHow has the Movement benefited girls from various countries and ethnicities?
It feels at the moment that the world is quite divided in places and you hear lots of views about increased radicalization, extremism, differences in the views of young people by comparison to their elected leaders in the community, and I think one of the things WAGGGS does is bringing girls and young women from across the world across political, social, economic barriers together and encourages girls to think about what it’s like to be a girl in a different country, what it’s like to walk in the shoes of a different girl and how we can support each other. We work together and we are all focused on our ambition, which is allowing every girl to thrive and fulfil her potential which is a recognition that we can achieve more if we do that together than if we do it individually. So we focus on giving girls this exposure to that international experience. They can meet each other and witness different lifestyles and share information so that people can see and hear from girls from different countries on what their different experiences are.
Q100 years is a long time. What is your opinion on the progress that the SLGGA has made within the country in the past 100 years?
It has progressed so much. I was lucky to go to their rally in Kandy, where there was a pageant that described the history of the SLGGA. Number one, the growth in numbers is quite extraordinary. The Sri Lanka Girl Guides have made themselves stay very relevant and responsive to what is happening in society. For example, I had the chance to visit one of their projects, Women At Work Children At School (WAWCAS). It is a micro finance, micro credit project. The SLGGA has gone to three different villages and they have been working with women living in those villages, to give them a loan so they can start off a business become self-sustaining and to be able to manage themselves and their families and their communities. What they’ve done is very deliberately go into the village, find out what the problems are and work in partnership with the women there to find some solutions. One of the other things that we saw in the pageant was the response of the Girl Guides to the Tsunami. In terms of the immediate aid, working with children to rebuild societies, provide activities where children can come together, talk about their fears about the Tsunami and engage in constructive rebuilding activities. It’s crucial because the impact of things like the Tsunami, the war period here in Sri Lanka always impacts disproportionately on girls. It’s always the girls who are at the most disadvantage, who are the first to stop going to school, who are the second in the queue to receive medical treatment, encouraged to engage in risky activities in order to generate income, so it’s really important for the SLGGA to help find a safe space to protect those women.
QThere is a vast change from the time that Girl Guides was introduced which was over 100 years ago and now. What are the new challenges you have faced over the time in keeping up with the changing society?
Things change over time. A 100 years ago technology did not exist in the way it does now. So one of our challenges now is how do we best use what technology one can bring to enhance what we do. So one example would be that we signed a partnership with UNICEF recently. It is called the U-Report. It is an app and girls living across the world register to say that they are a member of WAGGGS and then questions appear on the app about topics that are important to girls and they can write the answers.So we can gather information and statistics that can influence decision makers. Thus, using technology has really helped us to make connections to be much faster in how we respond to global issues. The other challenges like I described over history are that different dynamics exist, so we go through the war period, a peaceful period, a prosperous period, a poor period all those different things that happen not only in country cycles but also in global cycles. And right now one of the things that people are focused on is the impact of religion, the impact of political divide, the impact of a sense of growing divide between what young people think and what older generations that are elected to represent them think and WAGGGS has a responsibility to make sure that the voice of girls and young women is really elevated and can be used to influence decision makers in a positive way.
QGirls have been eligible to join the Scouts since 1976 and the Beavers and the Cubs since 1991. Will the Guides be open to allowing boys to join the movement?
I was asked this question many times. Right now when we ask the girls if they want the boys to join the Guides they say no. So our answer is the girls want a safe space that is for girls only and so that’s what we’ll continue to provide. There is no competition between the Scouts and the Guides. My energy goes into making ourselves accessible, attractive and relevant to those who we know we can bring great benefit and opportunity to but who haven’t had the opportunity to join.
QWhy is it important for the Guide Movement to be an all-girl movement?
It is very important. We genuinely believe in the value of integration, empathy, understanding each others place in the world and we achieve more when we work together than when we split apart.
Within the organization WAGGGS, we have some co-educational countries and some single sex countries. It’s very dependent on what the girls want for themselves and that’s determined by the culture and society that they live in, and most certainly the girls and young women tell us what they value is a safe girl space because it is something that they don’t get in different parts of their life.They feel that when they come to the Girl Guides they are in a girl-only space where they can genuinely be themselves, they can relax, grow in confidence, try new things, fail and learn from those mistakes and it is safe knowing that no one passes judgment and those are really important when one is trying to give a girl the opportunity to learn the life skills that they need.
QWhat would you say to those who think that Girl Guides is just about learning to tie knots, going camping and just having fun in general?
I would encourage them to look into the projects that Sri Lanka Girl Guides is leading and to challenge their opinions. I think it’s demonstrated through our 100-year history time and again that we’re one of the greatest movements. We’ve been agitating for social change. We’re the cutting edge of taking the view of a girl and a young woman and transitioning it into real action in society and it’s been consistent throughout a 100 years, and in some ways we’re the world’s best kept secret.