THE BLOG

Girls: A New Political Force in the UK and Abroad

15/09/2014 17:19 BST | Updated 15/11/2014 10:59 GMT

Amid all the frenzied debate about Scotland, another momentous political movement has come to the fore. A movement which, not unlike the campaign for Scottish independence, could have big repercussions in the UK.

Thousands of girls - represented by Girlguiding - have entered the political fray, many for the first time. In Girls Matter, they make eight demands of politicians to put girls' interests at the heart of what they do across government. As an act of collective lobbying by a group of young women, it is unprecedented.

Whether it's tackling bullying, teaching body confidence, improving sex and relationships education or increasing female representation in parliament, make no mistake: these girls will be a force to be reckoned with.

Why? Not purely because 10,000 girl guides will be voting for the first time in 2015. And not just by sheer weight of numbers - Girlguiding has 500,000 members in the UK. But also because they form part of a national - and indeed global - movement of girls and young women which is identifying wrongs to be righted, abuses to be ended and potential to be fulfilled. This movement can become an unstoppable force for good.

Girls Matter has been met with some criticism. Let girls be girls, don't put pressure on them, it has been argued. But such notions are based on a dated idea about young people and how to engage them in politics. This logic has it that we adults always know what's best, leaving the views of young people unheard.

When young people are consulted, it's often under the rubric of being 'the leaders of tomorrow.' For me this misses the point - I know from my work that young people can be the leaders of today.

Around the world, girls supported by Plan UK are making their voices heard and bringing about real change in their communities and countries, whether that be to erode harmful traditional practices like female genital mutilation and child marriage, or to ensure that they have the same chance as their brothers to learn.

And what strikes me, reading the Girlguiding rallying cry, is that the themes they highlight are universal. Discrimination and abuse may sometimes manifest themselves differently in different settings, but the origins are often the same set of attitudes and prejudices.

It's shocking to read that 87% of girls and young women surveyed in the UK believe that they are judged more on their appearance than their ability. Look at something like child marriage and you can see the shared roots; in Bangladesh, for example, 65% of girls are married before 18. In both cases girls are being valued for the wrong thing.

It's girls themselves who are the most powerful agents to shift these attitudes. They are the change-makers. That's what we see in our programmes to reduce child marriage in Bangladesh, and indeed in our Because I am a Girl programmes across the globe. That's what Julie Bentley, the inspirational leader of Girl Guides, sees too.

As one Girlguiding advocate, Julia, says: "Surely girls' voices are the most accurate and powerful evidence of what is affecting girls right now?"

At Plan UK we're proud to have support the production of Girls Matter, particularly in their demand that girls' rights are made a priority in international development work.

Thousands of girls have said what matters to them. Now our job, as adults, is to listen.