Hannah Brisbane: Speak out, girls! How are politicians to know what we think otherwise?

Scotland's Year of Young People is a time to celebrate and get behind our nation's youth. It's also a year to empower young people to speak out and to make sure our voices are heard in the decisions that can shape our futures.

Girlguiding Scotland members speak out
Girlguiding Scotland members speak out

As Girlguiding Scotland’s lead ­volunteer for voice, this is a really exciting opportunity for me and for our 50,000 young members, and we’re determined to make sure our voices ring out loud and clear.

While young people have been speaking out and taking action for a long time, it doesn’t always feel like we’re being heard or understood.

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Girlguiding’s Girls’ Attitudes ­survey last year found that 57 per cent of girls age 11-21 across the UK didn’t think that politicians understood the issues affecting them.

Hannah Brisbane, Girlguiding Scotlands lead volunteer for voice

In a country which gave the first group of women the right to vote 100 years ago, it’s discouraging to see young women still don’t feel their voices are represented by those in power.

Is it surprising when only a third of politicians in Westminster and just 36 per cent of MSPs are women? For me, the Year of Young People gives us the chance to address these issues and get more girls and young women than ever interested and able to ­participate in the political process.

The consequences of not having women in powerful positions can be dangerous. We’ve seen how this can lead to decades of unchallenged sexual harassment against women, ­tampons and pads being taxed as ­‘luxury items’, and a persistent ­gender pay gap. These are only a few examples of how a lack of women in power can enable ­sexism to become a part of girls’ everyday lives.

But we’ve also seen, when women are empowered and take action, that the consequences are much more positive, such as the Me Too and Times Up movements. The period poverty campaign has raised awareness of this often hidden issue, and has already seen major retailers absorb the cost of VAT on tampons while a number of pilot projects have been launched to ­provide free ­sanitary supplies in school and ­colleges and to people on ­low incomes.

Hannah Brisbane, Girlguiding Scotlands lead volunteer for voice

Girlguiding Scotland wants ­every girl to feel empowered to use her voice and develop the skills and ­confidence to feel like she can make real change in her community and beyond.

I know first-hand how important empowering girls to use their voices can be. After becoming a member of the Girlguiding Advocate panel, which represents young members across the UK, my confidence has grown ­tremendously. I went from being someone who hated speaking in the classroom, to someone who has appeared on live television ­multiple times, given speeches at conferences, and has met many MPs and MSPs to discuss inequalities.

Today, I am Girlguiding Scotland’s lead volunteer for voice. It is my job to support girls to speak out. At 14, I would never have pictured myself taking on a leadership role like this and I’m so excited that I now have the chance to help other girls ­discover their voice and achieve things they might never have thought possible.

I love seeing our young members take action on the things that ­matter to them and in recent years we’ve ­spoken up on all sorts of issues – from celebrating the power of inspiring female role models with our WOWwoman campaign, to calling for an end to sexual harassment in schools.

As part of this effort, I and ­other Girlguiding Scotland young ­members had the chance to give ­evidence to the Equalities and Human Rights Committee in the Scottish ­Parliament, leading to a commitment from the Scottish ­Government to address our concerns in their new anti-bullying guidance for schools.

Our young members are ­championing the call to end ­period poverty by collecting essential ­toiletries for their local foodbanks and tackling the ­stigma around ­periods.

We’re committed to tearing down barriers that hold girls back from making their voices heard and shaping their own futures.

The Year of Young People is an exciting opportunity to take this work even further and push for change. Last year, young people proved their voices and actions could have an impact – the Oxford English Dictionary even chose ‘youthquake’ as their word of the year, hinting at the ­seismic waves our generation is capable of creating when we speak out.

So let’s make this a braw year and push ourselves to go further. Let’s make sure the voices of girls, young women and all young people, don’t just shape the moment but shape our future too.

Hannah Brisbane, Girlguiding Scotland’s lead volunteer for voice.