Standing Up for Equality at IGGNITE2017!

When I first heard that I was going to be an activity Leader for IGGNITE2017, I was anxious but ready to take on the challenge. When I heard that I would have to incorporate the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into my activity, my readiness slowly began to dwindle. The SDGs are 17 global goals with 169 targets between them. They are focused on achieving sustainable solutions to some of the world’s most serious problems, including poverty and climate change. They build on the Millennium Development Goals and were formulated by the UN, which hopes to achieve these goals by 2030.

When we went to the staff training, there was a session on the SDGs and, once we had completed this training, I began to grow in confidence. I also did my own research on the SDGs so I arrived at camp fully prepared and excited to get started. I was placed in the ‘Be an Advocate’ zone and the activity I ran was called ‘Stand Up for Equality’. The SDGs that the activity focused on were 5-Gender Equality and 10-Reducing Inequalities. I was delighted to be running a workshop on equality as I believe that everyone deserves to be equal but that it is something we all are still struggling to achieve. I had attended the Use Your Voice international camp in England last year and I was excited to bring what I had learned at their advocacy session to this camp. We were going to run our activities four times a day and have around 30 girls per session.

Before I get into details about my activity, I want to make it clear that I could not have run any activity at all without all the other amazing staff in the ‘Be an Advocate’ zone, especially the zone leaders Niamh Teeling and Aisling O’Boyle. I had been really busy preparing my activity, but the amount of work that they put into that zone to make it enjoyable and educational, was second to none.

It was probably the most challenging zone. It was more educational and mostly based in classrooms. There was less running around and I was afraid that the girls would get bored easily. Nothing could have prepared me for the overwhelmingly positive response that I got from all of the Guides and Senior Branch members that walked through that classroom door over the week. Myself and two other staff members started the activity by asking the girls what they knew about advocacy, the SDGs and equality. At the beginning, the girls were all really quiet. However, once the brave person spoke first, we had great discussions about equality and how the girls could become advocates themselves.

After the discussion, we played a game called ‘Walk in my Shoes’. The girls were each given a persona, from varying backgrounds. They had to think about their backgrounds, financial and family situations, where they lived and if they experienced inequalities. A list of statements was read out, and the girls took a step forward if the statement applied to their persona and a step backwards if it didn’t. The girls that took a lot of steps were ones playing daughters of high-profile politicians, or people who owned companies such as Google. Those that didn’t take any steps forward included those girls who had the personas of disabled college students and refugees with no English. It was a great game to play as it got the girls thinking. What was surprising was that every group was different and the girls had varying reasons to justify why they did or didn’t step forward.

After this game, we decided to run a short activity to look at stereotypes surrounding certain occupations. The girls closed their eyes and a list of jobs was read out. They raised their hands depending on whether they pictured a man, woman or both a man and a woman doing the job. Many of the girls believed that builders, taxi drivers and football players were all labelled as ‘male occupations’ whereas jobs such as hairdressers, nurses and models were deemed to be ‘female’ roles. This was interesting as opinions varied from person to person and it also provoked a lot of chat.  What became apparently clear was that most of the girls had experienced inequalities in their daily lives, most notably in the subjects that they could take at school and the sports they played. The main reason for this was because they were girls. We quickly discovered that there are certain stigmas and stereotypes surrounding what it means to be a girl. The girls told me that certain subjects were labelled as ‘boys’ subjects’ and were unavailable to them. Those who play on sports teams receive less funding, support and equipment than boys’ teams. Some of the girls were told that they couldn’t play with the boys in their school as the boys were ‘too rough’ for them. Games were made easier for the girls and some teachers described them as ‘weak and incapable’.

We then watched a video of an advertising campaign ran by Always. The people in the video were told to run and fight like girls. The adults in the video all ran like Phoebe in Friends and portrayed themselves as weak. It was the men behaving ‘like girls’ that really made the Guides laugh. The men in the video believed they were not being offensive to women, however, in fact, they were. At the end of the video, younger girls were brought out and told to do the same thing. They behaved like themselves. We learned that it is only as we grow older that we become aware of the stereotypes surrounded with gender and that girls are particularly vulnerable to these stereotypes when they are teenagers. It was great to see the girls’ reactions while they watched the video.

We concluded the workshop by recording voxpops (voxpops are short interviews with members of the public). They are usually based on topical and political items and are broadcast on radio. The girls broke into smaller groups and discussed how they could use their voice in the media and stand up and be heard. We had a great array of voxpops including skits, interviews, conversational pieces, news reports, songs, raps, stories and poems. It was great to see the girls growing in confidence and breaking out of their shells. Many of the topics recorded were based on what they had learned in other workshops in the ‘Be an Advocate’ zone, such as climate change and the refugee crisis. We also had voxpops based on gender equality, how women are portrayed in the media and, of course, how the girls were finding IGGNITE2017.

I am overwhelmed with how much the girls learned over the week and how they used their voices to advocate for change. We all learned many new things about ourselves and overcame many challenges. Seeing the girls leaving our room with smiles on their faces and a passion for the SDGs was probably my favourite part of camp. The advocacy session on Saturday morning with females at the top of their profession was further inspiration to go out and make a change. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to run this workshop and I came away with an amazing sense of drive, confidence and determination, as well as tons of new badges, friends and memories. I am using what I have learned at this camp locally and I have just been appointed as the SDG Advocate for Louth. This camp was unbelievable and I cannot wait for the next one.