Speaking out is vital to women’s rights

Girls can help to change the world, says Isla Whateley

Malala Yousafzai demonstrated why speaking out about issues you believe in is so, so important. Picture: Jane Barlow
Malala Yousafzai demonstrated why speaking out about issues you believe in is so, so important. Picture: Jane Barlow

Malala Yousafzai, Aung San Suu Kyi, Rosa Parks, Emmeline Pankhurst. These women may all be from different times, but they have something vital in common.

None of them was afraid to speak out against oppression; be it political, gender-based or racist.

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If they had been too scared or worried to do this, girls’ right to education would not be so passionately discussed, many inequalities would not have been overcome and women might not have achieved the political freedoms they have achieved so far.

These women, and so many more, demonstrate why speaking out about issues you believe in is so, so important. They are the ones who inspire us and, thanks to them, society is fairer and more equal and is getting better every day.

But there is still work to do, and Girlguiding is a frontrunner in this race to true equality.

I am a Girlguiding advocate, which means I get to be a spokesperson for Girlguiding and speak out about issues that affect girls and young women.

I’ve only been part of the advocate panel for a year but since then I’ve had so many opportunities.

I have attended an all-party parliamentary group on education in the House of Lords, spoken at a Visible Women event for International Women’s Day, and written articles about body confidence that have featured in newspapers.

I am currently a member of a global youth panel working with the UK government, UNICEF and others to plan a youth event in July focusing on girls’ rights internationally.

I have improved my public speaking skills, my confidence, and most importantly, I have grown as a person.

It has definitely helped me to realise what I want to do in the future and I am no longer afraid to speak out about issues that matter to me.

Advocate has given me a voice and a platform to express my views.

Getting to know the 16 other advocates, all aged between 14 and 25, provided me with a brilliant group of like-minded people whom I can talk to about issues without being judged at all, and I have made firm friendships with them.

Girls have so many interesting things to say about the world, and are insightful, intelligent and savvy.

It is vital that we empower them to speak out and express their views, so they can really make a difference. Girlguiding is actively encouraging its members to do this; alongside the advocate panel, we have a strong delegation at the British Youth Council and the Scottish Youth Parliament, and we produce the annual Girls’ Attitudes Survey to find out opinions from girls all over the UK on issues from role models and equality, to university fees and plastic surgery.

This helps to get girls of all ages thinking about these important issues affecting them and what they can do to make a difference.

As Girlguiding advocates, we receive training and support in advocacy, campaigning and communications to help us speak out about the issues we care about.

We seek change by talking to MPs and in parliament, being media spokespeople for Girlguiding, running sessions in local guiding units, and speaking at Girlguiding events.

We also help to direct Girlguiding’s own research and are the driving force behind Girlguiding’s own advocacy and campaigning work.

One of the key things we say in Girlguiding is “We discover, we grow” and I feel this sums up the charity perfectly.

We put girls’ voices at the heart of all our work and we enable girls to discover and learn new things about so many different topics.

We allow girls to grow into empowered young women who are not afraid to speak their minds, in a safe and comforting place.

We encourage girls to be the change they want to see in the world and to make a difference in a society where equality is still not a reality despite the sacrifices made by many before us.

Girls can be the change, and guiding provides the perfect way to allow them to do this.

• Isla Whateley, 17, is a Girlguiding Advocate and member of The Senior Section from Glasgow

The Senior Section is Girlguiding’s section for young women aged 14-25. For more information on this group and the Advocate Panel, visit www.girlguiding.org.uk/theseniorsection