Girlguiding goes to the Labour and Conservative conferences
'The best part was getting to meet changemakers and discuss topics which matter to girls and young women'
Our advocates are a group of 18 Girlguiding members aged 14 to 25 and they lead the direction of our advocacy and research. They are committed to improving lives of girls and young women.
On 26 September and 3 October, six of them went to the Labour and Conservative conferences to speak with MPs and changemakers about their experiences and about Girlguiding. They attended a fringe event about women in politics, spoke to other young people and met up with other youth sector organisations and CEOs.
Three advocates went to the Labour conference in Brighton: Hen, who's 16 and from the Midlands, Kate, who’s from the LASER region and is 23, and 20-year-old Abi, who’s from Kent.
‘Being able to share my voice and discuss such an important topic with decision makers, allowing myself to be a voice for young women who are so often ignored in critical conversations was the best part,’ says Hen.
The three advocates spent the days in the youth zones of the conferences, meeting MPs and changemakers including Alison McGovern and Jess Phillips. At the Labour conference, they also hosted a panel event, sharing statistics from our 13th Girls’ Attitudes Survey and personal experiences of being a young woman today.
‘My role as chair was to ask questions and steer the conversation, leading discussion on topics such as safe outdoor spaces, the experience of girls in a school setting, online harassment and abuse, and coercive and controlling relationships,’ says Kate. ‘The Q&A session of the event led us to speaking about what male allies can do in this space. ‘I feel really proud that we have a significant impact on the people attending the session, and all of those we engaged with following the event. My fellow advocates were incredibly brave and powerful in their opening and closing speeches and I continue to be impressed and in awe of their resilience and engagement on this topic.’
Girlguiding has found that 80% of young women are scared to go outside alone and nearly 70% have experienced sexual harassment at school from another student. The 2021 Girls’ Attitudes Survey found that the online world isn’t any better, with more than 70% of girls aged between seven and 21 experiencing virtual harm in the past year.
‘Our statistics which clearly show how much of a widespread problem this is and it was important to discuss how these things can be tackled in a way which puts women and girls first,’ says Abi. ‘I think we emphasised what the audience already knew; sexual harassment needs to be tackled! But we also showed that behind these statistics there is a person desperately asking for things to change.’
Kate adds: ‘I personally found being able to be in a space where decision makers were coming together to listen to the voices of young people and be engaged with continuing the discussion on sexual harassment really powerful, the interest and engagement with the topic by the (packed) audience was really moving and felt very hopeful in the long road towards making change.’
'It was great to see the high levels of engagement and speak to different people learning about their perspectives. I'm hoping for online sexual harassment to be criminalised and for youth groups to be involved in policy and research surrounding sexual harassment and online harm' - Fran
Three other advocates went to the Conservative conference in Manchester on 3 October: Caitlyn, a 21-year-old from Belfast, 17-year-old Amanda from Scotland and Fran, who’s 21 and from Anglia.
As well as meeting MPs including Jo Gideon and Ruth Edwards, the three also hosted a panel event discussing online harm and sexual harassment. Advocates shared their stories and statistics from the It Happens All The Time, Girlguiding’s research into girls’ and young women’s experiences of sexual harassment.
‘I really enjoyed the opportunity to deliver a speech on such an important topic and the audience participation and engagement was super,’ says Amanda. ‘It was also great how the people we spoke to were genuinely interested in our views as young women and about the work Girlguiding does.’
After two weekends of Girlguiding going to the Labour and Conservative conference, Abi sums it up: ‘The best part was getting to meet changemakers and discuss topics which matter to girls and young women as well as getting the opportunity to show how Girlguiding is an organisation which puts women and girls’ rights at the forefront of their work.'