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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 July 2007, 23:50 GMT 00:50 UK
From homemaking to safe sex
By Lucy Rodgers
BBC News

Guides in 1957 (Pic: Girlguiding UK)
In the 1950s the focus was on homemaking skills

Polyester A-line navy blue skirts, woggles, itchy air hostess-style hats, sewn-on badges for homemaking, first aid, making fires, knots and doing semaphore - my memories of the girl guides circa 1984.

But, it seems, life for a 21st-century member of the UK's largest youth organisation for girls is now a very different experience.

Young women have ditched the woggles and navy skirts for T-shirts, rugby shirts, hoodies and jeans.

And while they can still learn how to make fires and administer first aid, they also get badges for knowledge of healthy lifestyles, world issues, circus skills, films and mastering the computer.

Flat-pack skills

Homemaking - one of the more backward-looking badges from my guiding days - has vanished, something a politically minded friend of mine will be pleased to hear after her 80s protest against it due to being a self-declared young "feminist".

Guide badges from 1910 (Pic: Girlguiding UK)
In 1910 badges were earned for milking cows and lace making

But, with a survey this week revealing that young women now want to learn about safe sex, assembling flat-pack furniture, managing money and writing a CV, it seems the guiding movement in the UK may well be forced to change yet further.

Denise King, chief executive of Girlguiding UK, says it has been essential for the movement to "constantly evolve" during its 97-year history to keep pace with the changing needs of members.

"But while the detail of what we offer our members has changed, our traditional values have stayed constant," she says.

"We have always aimed to help girls and young women gain the confidence, skills and experiences necessary to broaden their horizons and reach for new goals."

Two girl guides today (Pic: Girlguiding UK)
Modern guide uniforms are more casual

And the movement has changed a great deal since it was set up in 1910 after a group of girls turned up the previous year at a Scouting rally at Crystal Palace demanding to join in with the boys.

At that time, young women were given awards for milking cows, making lace, carpentry and sending telegraphs.

And in 1957 badges included Homemaker (lay and light a fire, make beds, make a jam or pickle), Commonwealth (keep a scrapbook about a colony), Hostess and even Rabbit Keeper.

Changing roles

But 50 years later, young women are now able to learn how to plan parties, use computers and live independently as well as cycle and travel the world.

Another type of merit even allows young guides to participate in beauty-related activities such as having face masks, massages and manicures.

Guide badges from 1957 and today (Pic: Girlguiding UK)
The Commonwealth badge of 1957 and the party planner of today

"Guiding has evolved over time, just as the roles of women in society have," Ms King says. "The badges have changed over time, in line with our members' needs and interests."

And this has been the secret of its continuing success, she insists.

According to the movement, more than half of women in Britain have been involved in guiding at some point during their lives, with celebrity members including presenters Cat Deeley, Lorraine Kelly and Carole Vorderman, cook Delia Smith and model Kate Moss.

There are currently 10 million members worldwide, of which 500,000 are in the UK. And there is even a waiting list of 50,000.

"Most importantly, guiding is fun," Ms King says, explaining its popularity. "We give girls and young women an opportunity to gain new experiences, learn new skills, and make friends in a safe, girl-only environment."

Adult members

And while guiding - including brownies and the older guides - mainly include girls between the ages of seven and 14, some stay on into adulthood.

Emma Joyce, 23, from Chiswick, west London, is still a member after joining as a seven-year-old and believes the movement and its badges are still relevant to young girls.

Guides in 1910 (Pic: Girlguiding UK)
Guides looked very different in 1910

"As with any organisation, to keep people interested it has to evolve and change with society," she says.

"I think the movement modernised recently and started to take girls seriously and give them a voice. The badges have changed too, for example we now have computing and communication.

"It is all about working in the community, meeting new people - it is a great social thing as well as being active."

So although the itchy hats and the homemaking have gone, the institution of girl guiding looks set to stay.

Guides say 'let's talk about sex'
03 Jan 07 |  Education
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08 Feb 05 |  Lancashire

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