Nesta Ashworth is the kind of hero that girls today would have no problem relating to. In the early 1900s, she saved her pocket money to buy an axe and build a fort in the woods with her friends. When she wanted to sleep in a tent, she was told to “Forget it!” and to focus on womanly skills such as nursing and cooking. But Nesta pushed back. In 1909, she gate-crashed a Boy Scout rally at London’s Crystal Palace and demanded a similar program for girls. Nesta wanted equal opportunities for girls – nothing more, nothing less.
From the very beginning, Guiding has been led by girls who were feminists. Yes, I said it, the F-word. It’s not a dirty word – it’s a word and premise I stand behind 100 per cent, and am proud to say shapes Guiding. It’s at the core of how the Guiding story began. It’s girls like Nesta who weren’t held back by society’s view that women were subservient to men – “only” homemakers. They pushed boundaries to be all they could and should be, and embodied feminism in the face of limiting ideologies about women. They were brave and courageous – and they were Girl Guides.
Fast forward to International Women’s Day 2017 which arrives on the heels of the Women’s March, a historical moment in time that saw millions of women worldwide come together in support of women’s rights. This was an incredible display of just how vibrant and alive feminism is today. And it is a good reminder that it is more important than ever for the Nestas of today – and the women who support them – to keep pushing these ideals whether it’s about equality, leadership or human rights.
The girls and young women I know in Guiding reflect all the powerful things that feminism is and can be. They believe in equality for all. They are self-reliant. They explore new challenges. They support one another. No judgment, no competition, no put downs – that’s what Guiding is all about.
Jillian Ashick-Stinson is one of these young women. As a member of Girl Guides, she will be representing the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts at next week’s United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW) in New York and speaking up about the rights of girls around the world.
“One of the most important lessons Guiding has taught me is the importance of empowering other women through positive female friendships,” she explains. “From being a shy Pathfinder trying to figure myself out to an active independent young woman, Guiding has let me be an active participant in my life and my future.”
The bridge between girls and young women like Nesta and Jillian is solid. Sure feminism may look different today than it did 50 or 100 years ago – but the underlying principle is the same. Feminism = equality for everyone – in absolutely every area of our lives. Girls’ lives are changing, but they won’t be held back and they won’t sit still for anything less. I am honoured to be a part of their world and so excited to see where girls and young women in Guiding will take us next.
By Pamela Rice, Chief Commissioner, Girl Guides of Canada.
Ready to empower your daughter? Registration for the 2017-18 Guiding year opens soon. Check the dates for your province/territory and mark your calendar to secure a spot in your preferred unit.