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Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Bristol Brownies :

An open letter to Girlguiding



Were you ever in the Brownies, or Guides, or Scouts or anything?  Petal is a Brownie, and is really enjoying spending time with different people, doing different things ~ all good as far as I'm concerned.

I was initially wary of Petal being exposed to the subtle but persistent religious ~ ification (and yes, I know that's not a word) of Brownies. Since Petal's Brown Owl, Hilary Winterson, was (and I trust she won't mind me mentioning this) clearly an older leader, I was expecting what I should probably carefully refer to as a traditional attitude.  Having met Hilary however, my mind was put to rest.  Clearly a strong independent woman with a refreshingly modern outlook on life, Hilary was not the slightest bit concerned when I mentioned that Petal and I would be writing her own promise, in order that it be relevant to her in her daily life.  Hilary did not miss a beat before telling us she's all in favour of the girls having this kind of input, and agreeing that it was obviously not appropriate for Petal to make a promise involving a god she doesn't believe in.

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But, as ever, there's a cloud on the horizon ~ Hilary is turning sixty five, and although she wants to continue, and is perfectly well able to, the powers that be have this to say:
Unit Leaders, in overall charge of a unit, must be aged between 18 and 65.  However, women aged over 65 can continue to volunteer within a unit as an Assistant Leader out Unit Helper.  Girl guiding recognises that many women are perfectly able to deliver a girl~ led programme that is relevant to today's girls and young women beyond the age of 65.  However, there are others who are less capable of doing so, which is why we ask those over 65 to step down from being the Leader in overall charged of a unit.

I can follow the logic.  I can see they have a responsibility to ensure every pack doesn't 'age' with it's leader, but since they acknowledge that many women are perfectly able to remain in post, why must they step down?  I also think they've been a little misleading, stating that women are asked to step down ~ in my mind it only counts as asking if the other party has a choice, has the option to say no ~ a choice neither Hilary nor other women around the country have been allowed to make.

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Hilary has asked to stay on as Brown Owl, but has been referred back to the organisations rules, which as you can see acknowledge the fact that she may well be perfectly capable of doing so, and yet do not allow this.  She is welcome to stay on as an assistant, but cannot retain the position of Brown Owl ~ this might sound like a perfectly reasonable solution, but perhaps not if you view the situation on an individual basis.  Hilary has been in charge for many years ~ she's now begun to see the daughters of women she knew as Brownies coming through.  To ask ~ no, wait ~ To require someone to step back from a well earned and flawlessly executed position of (in the nicest possible way) power, and to become the subordinate of a woman who is (potentially) less experienced purely because of an arbitrary, old fashioned age limit?

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This seems at odds with the ethics of an organisation which seeks to provide girls with opportunities to gain "confidence, skills and information to make informed choices... [and demonstrate] how they can speak out and take positive action to improve their lives and the lives of others" (girlguiding.org.uk).  Surely even the very act of placing an age limit demonstrates that once a woman has reached a certain age she is no longer considered able to hold a position of responsibility?  


I am slightly confused as to how the organisation can comment that many women are perfectly capable of continuing in their role while requiring that they must step down because a minority may no longer be able to do so, all must step down ~ this reeks of old style 'one for all or not at all' paternalistic condescension.  Surely if any Brown Owl in any pack at any point felt they were no longer able to  confidently and competently perform any of their duties then they would withdraw by themselves ~ or does Girlguiding not trust it's own volunteers to take responsibility for themselves?  Certainly women who feel they are beginning to struggle within their role, whether because of the physical demands, the time demanded of them or for any other reason should absolutely be supported to take a step back ~ whether this means switching to a less demanding role within the pack or withdrawing completely clearly needs to be worked out on an individual basis, but this doesn't apply solely to women nearing 65, but rather every woman in every role within the organisation, all of the time.

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Wouldn't it seem more logical to hang onto this wealth of experience and knowledge for as long as possible?  Effective Brown Owls are likely to have developed a huge reserve of local information and established positive links with schools and community leaders, as well as parents, carers, and the girls themselves.  Demoting altruistic individuals who have freely given significant amounts of their own time in an attempt to provide opportunities to girls in the UK seems hardly a fair reward.


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During discussion with Hilary, one parent suggested transferring the coveted Brown Owl role, on paper, to another individual, with Hilary continuing to act in this capacity ~ this seemed a relatively reasonable solution to an untenable situation, until Hilary pointed out this would involve being untruthful, something that she was very clear she did not want to do, commenting that it went against what she had been trying to encourage in her girls all this time.  

And if that doesn't tell you all you need to know about the continuing appropriateness of this woman as a role model to our daughters, I don't know what will.

Please please leave a message in the comments section ~ Girlguiding need to know that this is not only my opinion!  Please share the link with your friends and family, and it would be fantastic if you could post the link on Facebook / Twitter too...
(and isn't that a great genuinely coincidental end to the message!) (twitter too...)

There seems to be a problem with leaving comments ~ please click here to send the comment to me by email instead and I will cut/paste/post it for you.  I will include your name with the comment unless you tell me otherwise, I hope that's okay.
Lucas

{Update, including Girlguiding.org.uk response}

16 comments:

  1. I totally get your point and, clearly, I do not understand that way of thinking. I support your wish and I think this kind of age-related point of view is outdated and should be modernised.

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  2. Thank you Joy ~ please ask your family and friends to take a look too!
    Lucas

    ReplyDelete
  3. (On behalf of CB, another parent whose daughter attends this Brownie pack)
    This was the comment I wanted to leave 'My daughter Abby has had many social issues at school due to some educational barriers, Hilary has been much more than a 'brown owl' to this family, her wisdom and insight has encouraged us to get support for Abigail and to encourage Abby to push those barriers and rebuild her confidence. I do not believe it is in the best interest of this brownie pack to let Hilary go!!

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  4. Replies
    1. He is! Thank you for taking the time to say hi!
      Lucas

      Delete
  5. Hilary is truly a wonderful leader and should remain in her role as brown owl. We are all much younger in our years these days and it seems a great loss to lose someone as well respected as Hilary Winterson.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for commenting Alice ~ as you say, to lose Hilary would have a negative impact on so many people. I hope you have the opportunity to pass this link on to others so that we can show those people who have made the rules that this age limit is entirely inappropriate.
      Thanks again
      Lucas

      Delete
  6. Helen winterson15 April 2013 at 22:34

    My mum Hilary started at the brownie pack when I was a brownie . This year I turn 40.
    For over 17 years she has been selfless, committed, flexible, appreciated, un appreciated, respected, confided in, relyed on, all in her own time, fir no payment , for no expected thanks.
    Why ? Because that's who she is, what she is, dedicated and fully committed.
    ,

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Helen WINTERSON17 April 2013 at 18:21

      I must correct myself, over 27 years, not what I mistyped originally xxx

      Delete
  7. Thank you so much for taking a look Helen, you are absolutely right. Individuals like Hilary do not come along often enough for us to let her go! I have my fingers crossed you might be able to pass the link on to other people who have benefitted from Hilary's wisdom over the years!
    Lucas

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  8. This all sounds so out-dated! Why not let the Brownies and their parents vote? Sounds as though it would be unanimous. Here's hoping you can keep up the good work Hilary!

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    Replies
    1. I agree ~ it's very outdated! Such a shame that an organisation that is such a positive influence on young (very young!) women also pass on the impression that once you get to 65 you can still be involved, but not in charge! Thanks for commenting ~ please let your friends and family know too ~ check out http://abstractlucas.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/bristol-brownies-archive.html
      for the latest update!
      Thanks again
      Lucas

      Delete
  9. Helen Wintwrson16 April 2013 at 16:35

    I have just looked and found out that scout leaders can stay on until they decide they want to retire, surely if in the scouts leaders can continue so should brownie leaders.

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    Replies
    1. Exactly ~ I think it should be up to the individual to decide ~ if Hilary wanted to step down we would all absolutely understand, and that's fine ~ no one would have as problem with it. Since she doesn't want to, we don't want her to be forced to step down. I think it's a really undignified end to a positive, dedicated, principled career in volunteering.
      If you click on the tab at the top of the page on the right (marked 'brownies') you can see the latest!
      Thanks Helen, please keep spreading the word!
      Lucas

      Delete
  10. Just because a person is 65 it doesn't mean they are no longer ABLE , we should allow these passionate volunteers to continue to educate our children otherwise it's the younger generation that will miss out !! Well done Hilary xxx

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    Replies
    1. Well said Margaret, thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. Please let your family and friends and everyone you can think of know about Hilary being pushed out in this way!
      Lucas

      Delete

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