The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) began in 1909 when a group of girls declared at a boy scout rally that they were now girl scouts. The little community persisted with troops being founded in places like Australia, Finland and South Africa. By 1912, Juliette Gordon Lowe had begun the United States chapter and now the organization boasts chapters in over 150 countries (WAGGGS). Troops consists of groups of girls with a leader who work together to learn new skills and earn badges among many other activities. While the organization has grown in scope, the same core values the organization started with are true today. The organization works to be as inclusive as possible allowing equal footing for girls of any race, creed, or biological sex (WAGGGS 2012). Their ultimate goal is to empower girls to be successful leaders in whatever field or interest they pursue and the statistics show that they more than accomplish this task. Girl Scout alumnae are more likely to achieve long term goals, earn higher incomes, and represent huge portions of congress, astronauts, and tech leaders (Schoenberg 2012).
The unique aspect of WAGGGS which differs from other girl-based or scouting organizations is that the overarching institutions are truly neutral on every political stance. They support women whether they’re conservative or liberal, for or against abortion etc. They allow beliefs to be decided on a troop by troop or council basis so that the girls themselves have the ability to learn and decide. Girl Scouts and Girl Guides can and will advocate for each side of a debate or argument. This unique girl-led environment allows WAGGGS to characterize each country and council to match the culture and community of the individuals who live there, however their empowerment of girls and women can lead to some conflict as they learn to use their voice to make changes for women’s rights.
WAGGGS by its very nature is a heavy influencer of interaction between girls and their new and different cultures. The first World Conference happened in 1920 (WAGGGS), and troop exchange programs along with the “Destinations” programs grew from there encouraging sister troops from different countries to visit and for girls to get a chance to experience a different culture. More than that WAGGGS created the event World Thinking Day in 1926 (GSUSA), where every year Girl Scouts and Girl Guides across the world celebrate different cultures by making projects, trying new food, and educate others about their choices (Morristown 2018). Exchanges and World Conferences where scouts get to come together from all over the world are common and celebrated (Sunstar Philippines 2017, Jenkins 2019). Destinations programs allow for girls to go explore a different country trying out some of the popular pastimes and experience the culture. I attended a program in Costa Rica and panama where I experienced local cuisine, scuba diving and local environmental protection efforts, taught English at a local school, and participated in community service projects.
All of the programs allow for cross-cultural exploration while celebrating diversity. I learned about the culture, the language, and how something I do in the United States can impact what happens in other countries. I have heard my sentiments echoed from many girls who visited other countries, met troops from other countries, or even just chatted with them online. Two scouts from California have attended numerous destination trips to places such as Japan, Mongolia, Greece and South Africa. Their favorite part of the experience was “getting to communicate with the other girls by singing songs and playing games, even though their languages are different”(Zavala 2019). While the internet makes globalization a lot easier and brings the world closer together, WAGGGS has been doing this long before the invention of the internet (WAGGGS). WAGGGS has brought many women from many places together by respecting and valuing the diversity that each scout brings to the table and learning from their differences, not asking them to conform.
WAGGGS emphasis on diversity, inclusivity, and empowerment carries through more than just in their global conferences and programs but in how each country runs their own chapter. While WAGGGS may host the original “Promise” and “Law” each country has adapted it to their own cultural standards. While the USA’s Law reads:
“I will do my best to be
honest and fair,
friendly and helpful,
considerate and caring,
courageous and strong, and
responsible for what I say and do,
respect myself and others,
use resources wisely,
make the world a better place, and
be a sister to every Girl Scout,”GSUSA
The Law of Kenya reads:
“A Guide’s honour is to be trusted
A Guide is loyal
A Guide’s duty is to be useful and to help others
A Guide is a friend to all and a sister to every other Guide
A Guide is polite and considerate
A Guide preserves and loves nature
A Guide is obedient and has respect for others
A Guide is courageous and is cheerful under all circumstances
A Guide is careful and avoids wastefulness
A Guide is pure in thought, word and deed”Kenya WAGGGS
While mostly the same sort of concepts, there is a different emphasis in which characteristics are more important or on a different part of the concept. For example, the difference between “respecting authority” from the USA Law and “obedient” in the Kenya Law. While the spirit of both are the same, the details let each culture shine through.
There are five major regions which fall under WAGGGS: Western Hemisphere; African; Arabic; European; and Asia Pacific. Almost mirrored are the five scout houses/centers: Our Cabaña-Mexico; Pax Lodge-UK; Our Chalet-Switzerland; Sangnam-India; and Kusafiri-Africa (WAGGGS). While each offers a good reflection of their local culture, the most unique is the Kusafiri World Center in Africa. The Africa region is heavily spread out where much of the countries have fewer numbers of girl scouts in distant localized places. Instead of picking one physical location for Kusafiri it exists in whatever country the event is located in (Kusafiri WAGGGS). This way, with travel sometimes being difficult in Africa, they can reach the greatest number of girls. Furthermore, it allows girls from different parts of Africa to travel and interact with each other (Kusafiri WAGGGS).
The freedom each chapter has in representing and addressing the needs of their own communities can occasionally be overwhelmed or influenced by the prevailing western liberalist definition of what women’s rights should be. WAGGGS as an organization does not dictate to participating countries what women’s rights should look like, yet there is a common thread and goal that looks much like Western Countries’ model. Most of the women in Western Countries would probably argue that this is an overwhelmingly good thing, wishing that women everywhere would have the same privileges and decision-making power that we wield. Yet, the question appears in many debates of non-profit and philanthropic work if we as a western culture dictate what women’s rights look like, are we really regarding their cultures as our equal? (Kymlicka 1996) It can be a difficult question to answer, whether to interfere in a culture’s way of doing things to make them meet our standards or to respect them as they are even if it goes against our beliefs (Kymlicka 1996).
Luckily, in the case of WAGGGS and its chapters, WAGGGS does not act as a dictating body on any sort of prevailing beliefs. Just as they are neutral in regard to political stances, they let the girls and councils of each chapter decide for themselves which rights are important to them and which to pursue. Instead of teaching which rights are “correct” or “desirable” they teach girls about their respective political system and advocating for themselves through badgework . Almost every country from around the globe has a badge on advocacy and how to interact with their communities (Girl Guides Australia, GSUSA, Girl Guides Ballarut 2019). This however does lead to conflict within their cultures as the girls use their voice and skills to change their world.
In the United States this can be most easily seen in the Pro-life vs Pro-choice arguments. The country has two very divisive stances on whether abortion should or should not be allowed with both sides taking a moral high ground. In the USA Girl Scouts this has caused some rifts between the organization and the public (Baklinski 2017). There are some troops who march on the side of pro-choice in Women’s marches and there are families who boycott the girl scouts for any appearance of supporting Planned Parenthood (Baklinski 2017). The unique aspect of how WAGGGS and Girl Scouts work by allowing for girl-choice and self-advocacy means that both pro-choice and pro-life scouts exist not just in the US, but globally. This means WAGGGS and Girl Scouts can neither be for or against abortion, but with an issue that has so much morality attached to it this instantly becomes a conflict.
While the US Scouts have the benefit of living in a country with so many women’s rights so well established, many Girl Guides face more difficult conflicts as they learn to use their voice. In Liberia they fight for the educational rights of girls and against child marriage (Guardian 2017). In Pakistan girls are still fighting for their opinion to be heard and considered (Guardian 2017). The Girl Guides of Syria still operate and fight for women’s rights even now during the Syrian War. They even kept operating and taking a stand when the government banned all youth organizations in 1980. While they have been legally reinstated, they still face greater challenges in terms of finding campsites, members, and safety.
The fact that Girl Scouts and Girl Guides across the globe are experiencing conflict within their cultures by using their own voices is important. It’s a sure sign that WAGGGS is accomplishing its mission of empowering young girls to address the concerns in their communities and countries and ultimately globally as one huge organization. While each scout may fight on a local level based on the difficulties affecting their community, much of these problems are worldwide issues. Girl Guides and Scouts everywhere make it their mission to respect the diversity that comes from meeting someone new and learn what challenges they may face. There are built in programs designed to allow cross-cultural meeting and maintaining the uniqueness of each place and people. WAGGGS has existed for more than 100 years by empowering girls to use their voice and make connections across the world. Individually each chapter makes a difference in their community, together we make a worldwide difference.
“16th Girl Scouts of Korea International Camp.” Sunstar Philippines, August 25, 2017. https://www.sunstar.com.ph/article/160565.
“Advocacy.” Girl Guides Ballarat, March 15, 2019. https://girlguidesballarat.org.au/resources/girl-guide-badges/badge-syllabus-ideas/advocacy-create-a-challenge/
Baklinski, Pete. “Former Girl Scouts Leader Finds Organization’s ‘Money Trail’ to Abortion.” LifeSite, February 7, 2017. https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/watch-girl-scouts-mom-finds-organizations-money-trail-to-abortion.
Eggert, Nalina. “The World’s Least Likely Girl Guides.” BBC News, September 19, 2017. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-41306292.
“Girl Badge Programs.” Girl Guides Australia. Accessed December 11, 2019. https://www.girlguides.org.au/programs/girl-recognition/girl-badge-programs/.
“’It Is Us Who Will Change the World’: Girl Guides Make Their Voices Heard.” The Guardian, March 2, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2017/mar/02/it-is-us-who-will-change-the-world-girl-guides-make-their-voices-heard.
Jenkins, Alex. “Girl Guides Visits British Airways i360 as Part of International Sussex by the Sea Celebration.” Brighton & Hove Independent, August 1, 2019. https://www.brightonandhoveindependent.co.uk/news/people/girl-guides-visits-british-airways-i360-as-part-of-international-sussex-by-the-sea-celebration-1-9019566
“Kusafiri World Centre.” Kusafiri World Centre. Kusafiri WAGGGS. Accessed December 10, 2019. https://duz92c7qaoni3.cloudfront.net/documents/LOW_RES_kusafiri_flier_jul2019_FINAL_ENG_.pdf.
Kymlicka, Will. “Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights.” The Journal of Philosophy 93, no. 9 (1996): 480. https://doi.org/10.1093/0198290918.001.0001.
“Member Organisation – Kenya.” WAGGGS. Accessed December 11, 2019. https://www.wagggs.org/en/our-world/africa/member-organisations/kenya/.
“Morristown Girl Scouts Travel The Globe For World Thinking Day.” Morristown, NJ. March 5, 2018. https://patch.com/new-jersey/morristown/morristown-girl-scouts-travel-globe-world-thinking-day.
“Our History.” WAGGGS. Accessed December 11, 2019. https://www.wagggs.org/en/about-us/our-history/
“Public Policy Badge- Award and Badge Explorer – Girl Scouts.” Girl Scouts of the USA. Accessed December 11, 2019. https://www.girlscouts.org/en/our-program/badges/badge_explorer.html.
Schoenberg, Judy, Kimberlee Salmond, and Kamla Modi. “Girl Scouting Works: The Alumnae Impact Study.” Girl Scouting Works: The Alumnae Impact Study. Girl Scout Research Institute, 2012. https://www.girlscouts.org/content/dam/girlscouts-gsusa/forms-and-documents/about-girl-scouts/research/girl_scouting_works_the_alumnae_impact_study.pdf.
“Who We Are – Girl Scouts.” Girl Scouts of the USA. Accessed December 11, 2019. https://www.girlscouts.org/en/about-girl-scouts/who-we-are.html.
“World Thinking Day – Girl Scouts.” Girl Scouts of the USA. Accessed December 11, 2019. https://www.girlscouts.org/en/for-girls/think-globally/world-thinking-day.html.
Zavala, Julissa. “Local Girls Scouts Travel around the Country, World.” The Sentinel, August 31, 2019. https://hanfordsentinel.com/news/local/local-girls-scouts-travel-around-the-country-world/article_e8c5074d-d43f-5f54-a01d-576b094f97b7.html.
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