The modern Irish Girl Guide is a feminist who not only learns lessons but also takes action

Until recently, when I thought of Girl Guides I thought of campfires, weird uniforms, learning to tie knots and singing peculiar songs with unfathomable lyrics (‘ging gang goolie’ anyone?). My own darling daughters never expressed any interest in joining a local patrol and so I presumed that Guiding was most likely stuck back in the 1970s in an Enid Blyton world of chumminess and jolly hockey sticks. I am thoroughly ashamed to admit I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I recently met with the leaders and some of the girl guides from a patrol in Dundrum in Dublin and was amazed and really delighted to learn that not only are the Irish Girl Guides alive and kicking but they are very much on top of many of the issues that affect our girls today. Yes, there are still campfires and Girl Guides still achieve ‘badges’ which are sewn onto sashes worn over their uniform sweatshirts but the modern Irish Girl Guide is a feminist who not only learns about but also takes action on issues such as climate change, gender equality and body confidence.

The girls from Dundrum told me of their campaign on Global Warning which included writing 12 letters to various TD’s and Ministers ahead of the UN Climate Change conference and how the (then) Minister Alex White came to visit them and hear their views before he attended the conference. These girls aren’t just talkers, they are doers.

As part of the worldwide Girl Guide ‘Step It Up’ campaign, the girls in Dundrum also wrote to every one of the newly-elected TDs on International Women’s Day calling on them to do their bit for gender equality. They then visited Dáil Éireann with posters and signs to further drive the message home.

The Girl Guides were born out of the Scouting movement set up by Lord Baden Powell in 1909 in England. This was a time when women were agitating for the vote and so it’s not surprising that at the very first meeting of Boy Scouts a couple of hundred girls showed up although they weren’t invited. Their arrival however prompted Baden Powell and his sister Agnes to set up the Girl Guides in 1910 and a year later the movement began in Ireland and soon spread throughout the country.

It was time of great political and cultural change in Ireland and when Lady Baden Powell visited in 1928 she suggested that the Guides should follow the country, which had gained independence and dominion status within the Commonwealth.

So a separate Irish movement was set up with Lady Powerscourt as Chief Commissioner of the renamed Irish Free State Girl Guides.

Again in keeping with political changes in 1938 when Ireland became a Republic, the movement changed name to the Irish Girl Guides.

Marg McInerney is a Girl Guide Leader and Outdoor advisor in Carrigaline, Co Cork. She joined the local Brownies when she was eight years old, mainly she says “because my brother was in the Scouts and I liked to best him at things. I also always have loved the outdoors and we used to go on lots of adventures”.

However, nowadays Marg is busy not only training other leaders on ‘guiding methods’ for some of those outdoor adventures that are still a feature of being a Girl Guide but she also tells me about the ‘Free Being Me’ programme that is being rolled out through the guiding movement.

This programme is essentially about building girls self-esteem and debunking the beauty and image myths that are insidious in our culture.

What is remarkable about this programme is that it begins when the girls are Brownies (seven to 10 years old) with age appropriate, interactive activities such as the ‘perfect princess’.

For this, the girls are asked to design or outline their perfect princess and yes, they generally tend to be blonde haired, blue eyed, beauties with long tanned limbs, slim bodies and voluptuous breasts. They are then guided to realise that none of them or indeed no body they know, conforms to all the physical attributes of the perfect princess and so therefore she doesn’t exist. The idea is to help them realise that there is no one set way to look. This is further reinforced by exploring beauty in other cultures. Powerful stuff.

Marg goes on to explain that older girls do more sophisticated exercise to led them to the same conclusion.

“We also make them aware of when body talk comes into play and of when they talk in a negative way about their bodies,” says Marg. “We encourage them to be honest but to focus on positive elements.”

There are 12,000 Irish Girl Guides in Ireland. Within each ‘patrol’ there are three distinct groups organised by age; Ladybirds are from five to seven years of age, Brownies from seven to 10, Guides who are aged ten to 14 and Senior Branch who are aged 14 to 30. Guide Leaders can be any age over 18. Marg says that “every girl should have the opportunity to reach their full potential because when a girl believes in herself and can make her voice heard she can benefit her entire community.”

Amen sisters. And bravo.


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