Young Voices: Pippa Gardner
The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, or WAGGGS, is the world’s largest voluntary organization for girls and young women, and a source of ongoing inspiration for a vibrant new generation of women leaders. Pippa Gardner, 21, is one.
A Girl Guide in the United Kingdom since age five, her experiences with WAGGGS have included becoming a staunch advocate for achieving gender equality and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Now she has lent her voice to a new worldwide WAGGGS campaign—“Stop the violence: Speak out for girls’ rights.” The campaign represents one of the first global attempts to target anti-violence advocacy to young women and girls.
“In the UK, we have a lot of information about violence and adult women, and violence and children, but less specifically about violence and young women and girls,” Gardner says, making a point valid for many other countries.
“It is a prime time to work with young people because abuse in the teenage years can be a precursor to domestic violence later on,” she adds. “Young people want to learn about the issues. Peer-to-peer education is powerful, and can help to change the culture around violence.”
A recent college graduate about to embark on a master’s degree, Gardner supports the campaign partly through her role as a Girl Guides Youth Forum leader, and partly through a novel initiative she created after the Young Women’s World Youth Forum 2010. Called “Speak Out, Reach Out, Camp Out,” it uses a web platform and social media, with a possible mobile application in the works, to encourage people to link all three actions to achieving the MDGs and gender equality, and stopping violence.
“We wanted it to be about both raising awareness and encouraging people to do something practical,” Gardner explains. “You can speak out about gender equality and the MDGs. You can reach out to make a tangible difference-for example, we have set up a grant fund with the Girl Guides so that members can start their own projects to empower girls.
“Camping out comes from my experience in guiding. When you camp out, you go out of your comfort zone, but you are still in a safe space, so it is a great opportunity to develop yourself and learn new things.”
Gardner’s commitment to taking action against violence is fuelled by her own experience. She noted in a recent blog posting for the “Stop the violence: Speak out for girls’ rights” campaign: “I know personally just how it feels to be on the receiving end of violence. I know how it feels to live with the fear and the repercussions from being assaulted, and I know how difficult it is to walk away from a relationship that has turned abusive. The campaign means a lot to me, as I don’t want anyone else to face those problems.”
Her interest crystallized after she met other young activists at the 2011 meeting of the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York, where she began to realize how many other young women and girls experience violence.
Some 150 million girls experience sexual abuse every year, for example. Up to half of all sexual assaults worldwide are against girls under 16 years old.
Among the messages Gardner would like young people to hear and spread far and wide is that while the numbers may be bad, violence is not inevitable; it can be prevented. She also stresses that each action taken against it, no matter how large or small, is a step towards ending it.
And men and boys must be involved. “Sometimes there is this sense that we are accusing every man, so there is a possibility they will become defensive,” she says. “We need to ask them to join us to solve the problem rather than just saying they are the problem.”
Among members of her generation in the UK, she observes, many young men are aware of violence committed by strangers, in part due to media hype. But they are less conscious of domestic and intimate partner violence, even though statistically women are far more likely to be affected by it.
Gardner is a proponent of the “non-formal” education offered by the Girl Guides, where learning takes place in different forms outside the classroom. When young women and girls come together in a peer support group to discuss violence and how to prevent it, for instance, they learn about the issue in ways they can directly apply to their lives. They are also likely to share new knowledge with a wider circle of friends.
In the UK, Girl Guide troops are already involved in building a foundation for long-term prevention, such as through peer educators who lead sessions on healthy relationships, and work with girls on how to contend with the widespread practice of bullying. “We are not just talking about transmitting adult issues to girls, but about issues they are already facing,” Gardner says.
Under the “Stop the violence: Speak out for girls’ rights” campaign, UN Women is partnering with WAGGGS to develop a curriculum and badge designed around empowering girls and young women to claim the right to live free from violence. The curriculum will be rolled out by the end of 2012. It will help equip a growing number of young leaders like Pippa Gardner to bring messages—and actions—of hope and peace to the broader world.