Leah Parsons, 19, a Guide Leader with 1st Ivybridge Guide Unit represented Girlguiding UK at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa. Here she talks about her experience.
I was at the United National Climate Change Conference in Durban with a delegation of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts from across the world (The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts - WAGGGS), 17 of us from 13 different countries. We spent our days at the conference spreading the message of what guiding across the world is about and how we are tackling climate changes, as well highlighting the work we do promoting gender equality.
Before I went to the conference I was expecting it to be very formal and strict, with meetings and lots of men in suits. Instead it was crazy! We were busy running activities and talking to people who were really interested in what we had to say. All of our delegation took part in direct action actions to draw attention to climate change and how it affects us. Our action was based on the dance song, the Cha Cha slide, where we altered the lyrics and actions to be climate change related. It was great fun and so many people stopped to take pictures and ask us about what we were doing.
Having the opportunity to express what girls and young women feel about the whole situation was brilliant. Before I left I ran an Apprentice-style Climate Change Challenge with Guides from the group I lead. I asked them to look at maps to work out how they could change their travel plans to cut their carbon footprint, we also made footballs from recyclable material and looked at how they could be greener.
All my Guides feel very strongly about climate change and it would seem they are not alone. Research into the attitudes and opinions of girls and young women conducted by Girlguiding UK shows that this feeling is widespread. Girlguiding UK's annual Girls' Attitudes Survey investigates girls' opinions on a range of subjects, including the environment. This year 55% of 11-21-year-olds agreed with the statement 'I am angry that adults have damaged the environment, and our generation will have to deal with this'. This is up from 38% last year which is a huge leap.
Overwhelmingly, the girls I work with want to make a difference, but they don't how. This is again reflected in the Girls' Attitudes Survey, with 64% of 11 to 21-year-olds disagreeing with the statement "There's nothing I can do that will have any effect on global warming." Clearly they want to do more but getting that message across is difficult because in this country climate change doesn't directly affect us.
That's why it was so great to be able to take the opinions of my Guides to the conference and show how seriously girls take climate change, and to hear the experience of other girls and young women from around the world.
Ultimately, I think it will be women who make the difference as it became clear to me that at the moment climate change affects women more than it does men. One of our delegates - Beatrice Nyambeki - is from Kenya, gave a speech about how climate change affects girls and young women in Kenya. She spoke of how, because of the water shortages, she spends all her evenings collecting water and when it comes to dinner time, she will often give up a portion of her food to her brothers so they can be strong enough to work.
During her speech, people were crying and at the end got a standing ovation. This is why it is so important for WAGGGS to be there, so we can join together and highlight what is happening to women around the world.
I was extremely proud of the youth and their impact at the conference, and it shows that the young voice is just as important as the adult voice.
I plan to share my experience not just within Girlguiding UK but with local councils and schools. I want to show that we can all make a difference no matter where we come from. In the future I hope that at the COP conferences youth are taken more seriously and that there is more youth participation in decision making, I know and have seen how passionate youth from all over the world are about climate change and think that this enthusiasm should be used more widely. I think that decisions are also being made too late on an issue that we are running out of time on and so in the future I hope that this is sped up.