Empowering girls for their futures

Last updated 12:00 04/12/2013

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Palmerston North pharmacist Fiona Bradley has been involved with GirlGuiding New Zealand since the age of 5 when she became a Pippin. Over the years she moved through the ranks of Brownies, Guides and Rangers before becoming a Ranger leader 10 years ago.

"My mum had been a Brownie and she wanted me to do something, but I don't think she expected me to carry on as long as I have. I started Pippins with three other girls from my school and two of us stayed together all the way through to Rangers. That made a difference, having friends I had grown up with," says Ms Bradley.

GirlGuiding New Zealand is New Zealand's largest female-only organisation. With more than 10,000 members, it empowers girls and young women to become tomorrow's leaders.

"We do a lot of activities for the girls to take them through the Ranger programme, all based around skill building, confidence and self-esteem."

The girls get involved in community projects and this year Ms Bradley says they helped clean up litter, took part in the Heart Foundation Polar Plunge, and made soaps and cards for people in hospital.

Ms Bradley says with Rangers, her role is to keep the girls on track, managing them rather than telling them what to do.

"It's about pushing themselves outside of their comfort zone. If you let them set the bar themselves, they won't set it too high. My job is to get them doing more than they think they can."

Ms Bradley says she enjoyed her time in the different groups as she moved from Pippins to Rangers and that each provided age-specific challenges.

"One of the things I remember most is I don't consider myself to be a crafty or creative person and we did cross stitch for a craft badge. I didn't think I could do it but I was really good at it and I made cross stitch bookmarks for my friends for Christmas. We teach the girls so much, it's hard to put it into words. We teach them life skills and just so many little things like problem solving, being able to communicate with your peers, confidence, self-esteem. When you think about guiding, there are leadership opportunities and confidence building, and self-esteem."

Ms Bradley says upskilling the girls helps them to believe in themselves and then GirlGuiding New Zealand provides them with the opportunities to get out and interact with the community and become involved in advocacy.

In 2011 Ms Bradley went to New York to represent GirlGuiding New Zealand at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. She established an event called Take Back the Night as a way for young women to speak about the importance of making their communities safer and raising awareness about violence, particularly against women and children. The success of Take Back the Night is its growth from the first event in Palmerston North in 2011 to 10 events nationwide this year.

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This week Ms Bradley flies to Sangam Pune, India, to help present and run a seminar on Stop the Violence, a project that raises awareness in guiding about violence at an international and national level.

"I'm also going to share what I've done to try and inspire other young women. There will be 29 delegates from around the world who will get involved with the campaign and run similar things in their country. Through advocacy, self-esteem and leadership development we are empowering girls to take control of their own futures. They have the confidence to speak up, take a stand and be counted on a range of issues, including the abuse of women and children - which is a sad reality within New Zealand society," she says.

Last month Ms Bradley was named one of 16 finalists out of 296 nominations from across the Commonwealth who have been shortlisted for the 2013 Commonwealth Youth Awards for Excellence in Development Work. The finalists were selected for their innovative projects that have made a significant difference to their communities and countries.

"I am one of four [finalists] within the Pacific region. I was really overwhelmed, I didn't really expect to get it at all. You believe in the work you do and don't expect to get rewarded for it. "Sometimes what we do is just a drip in the ocean. That's how I feel about my work - it's a big issue and it can be hard to make a difference, but I keep doing one thing and talking to one person and these drips make up to a big difference. It's great to have done work that gets recognised."

Ms Bradley says she believes what she does makes a difference to girls' lives even if they don't stay with guiding for long.

"I've been given so many opportunities and it's my job now to ensure other young girls and women have the same opportunities I had. I wouldn't have got my career opportunities outside of guiding if I didn't have the skills I've gained from guiding. I just don't think I could leave, I enjoy it so much."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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