The Telegraph

Saturday 16 December 2000

Guides accused of losing their way

By David Graves
The Daily Telegraph

THE Guide Association, which created controversy when it changed its oath so Guides no longer promise "to do my duty to God", has brought out a new handbook that banishes the word marriage.

The recently published programme for the senior section of the Guides envisages all girls having "partners" and diminishes the role of the Church. Traditionalists said the handbook, Look Wider, changed the ethos of the movement "dramatically" and was more likely to dissuade young women from joining the section than encourage them.

The row comes two weeks after Tessa Jowell, the minister for employment and women, said the Government should not promote marriage as the ideal context for bringing up children because it would make the offspring of single or cohabiting parents feel inferior.

Some adult leaders in the Guide Association, formed 90 years ago by Baden-Powell as an alternative for girls to the Scouts, are so concerned about the handbook for Guides aged 14-25 that they have signed a petition asking the association to review the programme.

Penny Thompson, a Young Leader Guider on Merseyside, has persuaded 33 other leaders to sign the petition, which could provoke a row as damaging as that over plans to change its Promise. Five years ago, after a passionate debate within the association, it was agreed to change its oath so Guides no longer pledged to "do my duty to God" but to "love my God".

Mrs Thompson said the association, which has nearly 700,000 members, produced the new handbook in an attempt to modernise its image because it was concerned that it was losing girls and leaders.

She said yesterday: "The word marriage is nowhere to be found in this publication. Nor can I find the word wife. It seems that young women in the Guide Association will all become 'partners'. Doubtless there is a concern not to exclude those girls who come from family units where parents are unmarried or divorced.

The failure to include the word marriage and wife, however, means that it is those who might wish to get married and become a wife who are effectively excluded. Mrs Thompson said:"The word husband does not occur: however husbands are not mentioned as being married to wives but to the house. The mention is of 'househusbands'."

The handbook, which has a front-page picture of a Guide wearing a ring through her nose, also includes a colour photograph of another girl holding up an unrolled ribbed condom.

Mrs Thompson said the overall message of the handbook was that what mattered in Guiding was getting the most out of life for themselves, rather than Baden-Powell's message to the young to "Look Wider". She said she could not find any mention of the word service in the programme and the section that used to be called Service to the Community was now called Community Action.

The only website recommended for religion was one for new age beliefs and the handbook suggested that Guides should invite the Brook Advisory Centre to talk about sexual relationships, find out from their MP why single-sex marriages were illegal and discuss prostitution with their group.

Mrs Thompson said: "It is a striking fact that in the many sections which detail life in the community there is no mention of a church, priest, rabbi, synagogue or lay worker. Key people in the community are said to be the local councillor, magistrate, probation officer, social worker and youth worker.

"The only evidence of the Church in the community is a mention of parish magazines as an example of community publications and 'ethnic and religious' groups, which features at the end of a list of the different kinds of people in a community."

A Guide Association spokesman said last night that the new handbook was written after extensive consultation with Guides, following the receipt of thousands of questionnaires and use of focus groups. All the reaction since publication had been "very positive".

The spokesman said: "We are not trying to be pro- or anti-marriage, but to help Guides make informed decisions about their lives, to enable them to become well informed and rounded individuals. Above all, we want to encourage them to have a positive self-esteem."

External Links

Look Wider - The Guide Association

The Guide Association

Girl Guide Information Centre

Brook Online

Family Policy Studies Centre

Young Women's Christian Association

Young Women's Health Page

Family Planning Association

Sex Resources for Young Women - Pink Slip

Good News Family Care

Other Stories

2 December 2000: Jowell: Don't say marriage is the ideal

1 December 2000: [International] City cuts links with Scouts over gay ban

10 October 2000: Government launches £2m advertising campaign

2 October 2000: Dolls show realities of teenage pregnancy

24 May 2000: Forget Geri and Britney, mother knows best

11 April 2000: Girls will be helped to aim 'higher than hairdressing'

12 February 2000: Pupils must learn 'real' morals, says Woodhead

3 February 2000: Churches call for Christian values in sex education

© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2000.