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Girlguiding charity apologises as audit uncovers racism and Islamophobia

Exclusive: The chief executive of the charity has apologised and pledged to bring about changes.

Nadine White
Wednesday 19 May 2021 14:59 BST
Founded in 1910, Girlguiding is the UK’s leading charity for girls and young women with around 300,000 members.
Founded in 1910, Girlguiding is the UK’s leading charity for girls and young women with around 300,000 members. (Girlguiding)
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Girlguiding, the UK’s leading charity for girls and young women, has apologised after an external audit uncovered alarming instances of racism and Islamophobia among girl guides and staff.

The probe, which took evidence from over 200 members, staff, parents and carers, revealed instances of discrimination that saw young people of colour being called racial slurs and a Muslim girl being asked remove her hijab during a trip.

Racialised “jokes” and micro-aggressions such purposefully mispronouncing names and touching people’s hair have all been cited as common, offensive experiences by staff members within the organisation, as well as dressing up in native American head-dresses.

In another instance, a girl aged under 7 was told by another child that she didn’t want to hold her hand because she ‘is dirty’ and her parent reported feeling “too worried about backlash” to raise this with the leader.

The same girl was kicked by another using a racial slur towards her, the audit found.

Angela Salt, the charity’s chief executive said: “On behalf of Girlguiding, I am deeply sorry to anyone who has ever felt unwelcome, unsupported or uncomfortable or who has been subject to discrimination or exclusion of any form at the charity.

“My priority as CEO is to strive to build people’s trust in our commitment to tackle the issues we’ve identified. We’re starting our new plan now. This will see us implement changes across the whole organisation. The leadership team and I are fully committed to tackling the problems head-on and we will change.

“As society shifts and changes, we will continue to listen, engage and consult to ensure we remain relevant, accessible and impactful in the lives of girls and young women now and in the future.”

In light of the audit, the charity has now launched a new plan to enhance diversity and inclusion that includes action-points such as implementing new training for volunteers and staff on race-equity and recruiting a network of inclusion advisors to support and advise volunteers on the ground.

Girlguiding has also begun to compile its first annual ethnicity pay gap report for our staff, committing to taking action to address any disparities, which will be published next month.

Girls are organised into sections across the club according to their age; these are Rainbows, Brownies, Guides and Rangers. (Girlguiding)

Lack of diversity has been acknowledged as a serious issue within the charity from the top down.

Some ethnic minority staff told auditors that white staff only greet other white staff when coming in the room and ignoring their non-white colleagues, while other employees within the external communications team told the auditors that they have experienced resistance when wanting to post things around LGBT+ inclusion or Islamic holidays.

It has been reported that ethnic minority staff members have been asked to do administrative or menial tasks even if more junior white staff were available to do it.

“There needs to be a serious reform regarding racism and LGBTQ issues. If you raise a concern, they [HR and managers] are not quick to respond,” one employee said.

Another added: “I met a commissioner and she said that in some places ... it just doesn’t look like England anymore. I can’t believe she said that to me. It was awful but I had to swallow it”.

This audit was a direct outcome of the charity’s organisational strategy launched in January 2020.

The core participant groups were lesbian, gay, bi and trans (LGBT+) people, ethnic minority people, working class people, disabled people and those belonging to minoritised faiths.

All of these groups stated that there are equality, diversity and inclusion problems and that Girlguiding was not seen as an inclusive organisation by most participants.

LGBT+ participants also raised concerns such as being excluded from activities on the basis of their sexuality.

Founded in 1910, Girlguiding is the UK’s leading charity for girls and young women aged up to 18, with around 300,000 members.

Based on Buckingham Palace road, the charity has an longstanding relationship with the Royal Family; Queen Elizabeth II is its Patron and the Countess of Wessex, wife to Prince Edward, is the President.

The organisation was co-founded by Baron Robert Baden-Powell, who died aged 83 in 1941 and has been criticised by campaigners for being racist and homophobic.

Operating across the country, Girlguiding has over 25,000 groups meeting weekly, involving over 80,000 volunteers, where they participate in various adventurous activities such as sailing, climbing and camping.

It is geared towards offering “girls and young women a space where they can be themselves, have fun, build brilliant friendships, gain valuable life skills and make a positive difference in their communities”

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