Girlguiding UK considers dropping Queen from oath

Girlguiding UK, the largest voluntary organisation for girls and young women in the UK, is considering removing any mention of God or the Queen from its oath, according to the head of the organisation.

Note: This article is from the Guardian.


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Girlguiding UK considers dropping God and Queen from its oath” was written by Alexandra Topping, for The Guardian on Friday 4th January 2013 17.28 UTC

Girlguiding UK, the largest voluntary organisation for girls and young women in the UK, is considering removing any mention of God or the Queen from its oath, according to the head of the organisation.

In one of the biggest shakeups in its 102-year history, it has launched a landmark consultation that could see significant changes to the oath Guides are expected to take when they join.

"The Promise has been part of the girl guides since its beginning – it is crucial and unique," said the organisation’s new chief executive, Julie Bentley. "We know from listening to our members that some people do find some parts of the oath challenging, and when members do make that oath we want them to mean it and believe it.

"Times do change, the world has changed and the way people view the world has changed. Our response is not to be stuck in a rigid way, but to respond to the needs of our membership." She added that this was "in no way a watering down of our values or moral compass".

The move comes weeks after a similar consultation by the Scout Association, which is considering providing an alternative Promise to welcome atheists as full members after complaints from parents, would-be Scouts and atheist and humanist campaigners. Unlike the Scouts, who have insisted the movement in Britain will not remove its demand that members do their duty to the Queen, Bentley said the Guides consultation could change "everything or nothing".

"Every element of the Promise is in the consultation and there is no predetermined response," she added. "Everything could change or everything could stay the same."

The consultation, which will close on 3 March, is open both to members of the organisation and those outside it. It states: "The Promise is guiding’s beating heart – it’s the core expression of our values and the common standard that brings us all together. But over the past few years we have heard from more and more girls and volunteers who struggle with the wording, particularly in interpreting what it really means to girls today."

Currently Guides promise to do their best, love "my God", serve "the Queen and country" and keep the Guide law. The consultation asks questions around the wording, asking for opinions on a range of alternatives. As well as "love my God" they are asked to express a preference for other options which range from "serve God" to "search for the spiritual value in my life" and "serve the highest truth and love faithfully at all times".

In the "essence of citizenship" section, respondents are asked to comment on options that include "serve the Queen and my country", "be useful to my country" and "engage myself with responsibility in the community I live in".

Girlguiding UK currently has 538,247 members, including 63,000 trained volunteers. But last year more than 50,000 girls were on waiting lists to join because of a lack of leaders, despite a growing number of volunteers. Changing work patterns, particularly the increase in the numbers of women working, means the organisation has to work harder to attract volunteers and make volunteering more flexible, said Bentley. She acknowledged that the changes to the oath could remove a barrier to volunteering for some people.

"We need to be very mindful," she said. "Some people could be uncomfortable with a change, others might be encouraged. There are strong feelings about this, which is why it’s important we do it properly."

The consultation is also part of a wider shift to change the outdated imaging of Guides. "We have to challenge the public perception that some people have that we are a religious organisation that is just about baking and sewing," she said, adding that girls still could take part in such activities but might also come up with business plans for a Dragon’s Den-type scenario. "For more than 100 years we have provided a space for girls and young women to just be themselves and achieve what they want in life – they don’t have to be stereotyped."

Previously head of the Family Planning Association and the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, which campaigns against violence, Bentley ruffled feathers when she started her new role in November after stating that Girlguiding UK was "the ultimate feminist" organisation. "It appears it was more controversial than using the other f-word," she said. "But the Guides was formed when a group of girls gatecrashed a boys-only meeting – if that isn’t feminism, I don’t know what is."

She admitted that some members had been uncomfortable with the use of the word, but said the majority had been pleased. "Everyone in Girlguiding UK, and all of our amazing volunteers, do what they do because they believe in creating a space for girls to be themselves, have fun and reach their potential – I’m very comfortable with that definition of feminism."

Getting girls’ voices heard was another goal, she said, after recent research commissioned by the Guides found that two-thirds of girls thought women were still judged more on looks than ability, and that one in three would consider plastic surgery.

"Half a million girls is a very powerful voice, and I want to make sure that it is heard at a national level. David Cameron should be hearing what these girls have to say," said Bentley.

The consultation has met with disapproval from traditionalists and religious organisations. Andrea Williams, of Christian Concern, said the organisation should retain its Christian origins. "I think it is a great sadness when you lose that ethos, you lose what you believe in and [the organisation] ends up meaning nothing. These organisations should be proud of their heritage, proud of their beliefs – it is what makes them special."

Jill Kirby, who writes on social and family policy, said the unique status of the Guides – and the organisation’s ability to remove girls from grown-up pressures – had to be protected as changes continued in the organisation. "One of the reasons the Guides is so popular with parents and girls is that it is quite a traditional organisation away from celebrity culture, where girls can ignore the pressure they are often put under," she said.

"That tradition is about service – to God, Queen and society – and there has not been a falling off of interest despite sticking to those values."

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