Alice Smith is a Girlguiding Advocate, Ranger and Young Leader with 16th St Albans Rainbows and 16th St Albans Brownies. Girlguiding Advocates speak out and influence decision-makers to help make a change about the issues that affect girls and young women today. Alice is a wheelchair basketball player, huge motorsport fan and an aspiring F1 race engineer and focuses on getting more women into sports and STEM, and ensuring a more accessible world.
“I’m disabled and neurodivergent, and Girlguiding has empowered me to educate, and has supported me throughout thick and thin.”
What Girlguiding advocates stand for!
I’m a Year 12 student who has just started studying A-Level maths, physics and history. I am also one of 16 Girlguiding Advocates from across the country. We speak out and influence decision-makers to help make changes about the issues that affect girls and young women today.
We are between the ages of 14-21, so we bring our own experiences to help shape both policies within Girlguiding and wider society. We focus on issues that are often not spoken about by politicians but are systemically affecting girls and young women.
In 2015, the then advocate panel launched Girlguiding’s campaign to tackle sexual harassment in schools, helping to show the extent of the issue and calling for new guidance for schools and compulsory Relationships and Sex Education (RSE).
Girlguiding and advocates at the time also supported the Women and Equalities Select Committee inquiry into sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools, which clearly showed the government how endemic this issue is in their 2016 report.
The advocate panel has also spoken out about period poverty, as well as sex and relationship education, which has led to changes in legislation being made by the government, including the implementation of a scheme for period products to be made freely available to all state schools and colleges in England.
Making everyone feel included
We want Girlguiding to be a place where everyone is welcome, is free to be themselves, and has an equal sense of belonging. A big part of that is making sure that everyone is included so that every girl has a chance to do amazing things, whoever they are and wherever they are from.
Being inclusive is one of Girlguiding’s core values and we support our 80,000 volunteers to create an inclusive environment with advice, guidance, policies, and training, working with partners to help provide extra support for members should they need it.
Over the past couple of years, we’ve been working to open more groups in the most deprived areas of the UK so that more girls, young women and potential volunteers from all backgrounds can join.
To help promote diversity and inclusion we also help empower our members to educate themselves and mark events and movements such as Pride, Black Lives Matter, Holocaust memorial day and religious festivals – to name a few.
This year, to reaffirm our commitment to diversity and inclusion, we launched our Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan, setting out the steps we will take to realise our ambition of being a truly inclusive and impactful organisation.
I’m disabled and neurodivergent, and Girlguiding has empowered me to educate, and has supported me through thick and thin. From my experience, people have been open to learn and adapt, from using identity-first language (my disability isn’t something I just bring along with me, hence why I don’t use ‘person with a disability’)
The impact of COVID-19 on our mission
In line with government guidance, all face-to-face activities were stopped in March 2020. It was a shock and totally gutting for most people. For the first time in almost 10 years, I wasn’t putting on my Rainbows/Brownies/Guides/Rangers uniform to go to a face-to-face meeting – it was definitely a shock to the system.
During the pandemic, we were flexible. We worked within the rules, personal circumstances, and the weather. The outside meetings in 7°c weren’t pleasant, but it was wonderful to see my Rainbows and Brownies again. The charity also offered virtual meetings for its units which allowed girls and young women to feel connected and supported during this time.
Girlguiding developed a specially created virtual activity hub, called #AdventuresAtHome. The hub was open to everyone, not just Girlguiding members, and provided a welcome break from the stress and anxieties of the pandemic.
Some of our incredible Girlguiding leaders worked on the front line throughout this pandemic, and we are forever grateful for them both helping the country fight against covid and provide fab opportunities for our young members.
The importance of asking girls how they feel
The Girls’ Attitudes Survey is Girlguiding’s annual research which provides a snapshot of what girls and young women are experiencing today.
Over 2000 girls aged between seven and 21, both inside and outside Guiding were asked how they feel about the specific and emerging pressures facing them today, and what these mean for their happiness, wellbeing and opportunities in life. Now in its thirteenth year, this year’s research captures the pandemic’s impact and how it has influenced girls’ and young women’s views about themselves and the world around them.
As an advocate, I’m proud to say I’ve helped shape the last two Girls’ Attitudes Surveys.
A decline in happiness, and what we will do to change this
Unsurprisingly, in my opinion, this year’s Girls’ Attitudes Survey revealed that happiness amongst girls and young women has continued to decline. This reflects what my peers and I see every day.
As the pandemic took its toll, the research revealed the number of girls (67%) feeling more sad, anxious or worried is at an all-time high. This year saw a decline in younger girls’ happiness appearing even greater with only 25% of girls aged 7-10 reporting they feel ‘very happy most of the time’ compared to 43% in 2018.
The research also found that nearly three-quarters (71%) of girls and young women aged 7-21 have experienced online harm, with over one quarter (28%) of girls and young women aged 11-21 having faced harassment online, including unwanted or hateful messages and threats, and half of the girls receiving sexist comments. Again, this echoes both my own and my peers’ experiences.
Girlguiding will use the findings of the Girls’ Attitudes Survey to better inform its innovative peer education program, core programme and wellbeing and resilience tools. We are constantly updating our program to ensure we are helping to support girls and young women in the best possible way.
Being the voice of girls and women
As the leading charity for girls and young women in the UK, Girlguiding works with decision-makers, funders and other stakeholders across society to help tackle the undue pressures girls and young women face. Girlguiding wants to ensure children and young people’s concerns are at the heart of government decision-making and girls’ voices are heard on the issues that affect them.
In June 2019, Girlguiding responded to the government’s consultation on its Online Harms White Paper calling for the gendered harms girls and young women face online to be recognised in this legislation. The charity will continue to share girls’ and young women’s experiences to ensure this is addressed.
In October 2020, myself, and other members of the advocate panel and British Youth Council delegation spoke to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, and shared our experiences and Girlguiding’s research to help inform policy development. Girlguiding provides the platform for girls and young women, such as myself to use our voices.
International Day of the Girl: the day to raise awareness
For me, International Day of the Girl provides an opportunity for young girls and young women like myself to feel represented and listened to. It’s a day to highlight all things that affect girls, the positives but also the negatives.
We fear to walk outside on our own, our mental wellbeing is in decline, and we don’t feel represented. This is the day to raise awareness.
As I progress throughout sixth form, I aim to go to university and study MEng automotive engineering. I’m an aspiring F1 race engineer – the person that you hear over team radio talking to the drivers. You might have heard Lewis Hamilton say “Bono, my tyres are gone!”
I know I’m going into an industry where women are underrepresented, and I hope I can help inspire more women to go into F1 and STEM careers in general. F1 is typically seen as the rich man’s playground, however, there are some incredible women paving the way for more women to work in motorsport.
Susie Wolf (Team Principal of Venturi Formula E), Ruth Buscombe (head of strategy at Alfa Romeo F1) and Bernadette Colins (head of strategy at Aston Martin F1) are three women who personally inspire me and are trailblazers of motorsport.