Leadership becomes a guiding light for girls – the story of Ukrainian Girl Guides

The development of practical skills and an atmosphere of sisterly support is the best environment for building the leadership potential of women and girls, according to activists of the Ukrainian Girl Scout movement. With the support of the Women’s Voice and Leadership – Ukraine project, the NGO “Association of Ukrainian Guides” has attracted girls from all over Ukraine to the scouting movement, who have discovered a wide world of opportunities and new role models.

Since its foundation in 1996, AUG has been working to develop girls’ independence and leadership skills. To emancipate them, AUG combines the Guiding method (a global movement of girls and women scouts) and educational tools. An active community, support, the principle of learning through practice, and the promotion of leadership contribute to developing a harmonious personality and realising the potential of the participants of AUG events.

Working with girls and young women, the organisation also involves children, parents, social and community activists. An important principle of the community is the cooperation between different generations of women: older women teach younger women, and younger women teach older women what they know best.

Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, the AUG team has partially shifted its focus to improving conditions for mothers and caregivers and their children in Ukraine. The activists created opportunities for psychological recovery and personal development for them believing that during wartime it is equally important to invest in the leadership potential of Ukrainian women and teach girls to be future change-makers. The Association of Ukrainian Guides has also strengthened its international contacts, which have helped scouts from other countries to learn the truth about what is happening in Ukraine, help displaced Ukrainians on the ground, and send humanitarian aid to Ukraine. However, after the full-scale invasion began, the AUG, like many other women’s organisations in Ukraine, faced challenges of sustainability, team migration and reconnecting with their audience. Some volunteers went abroad, others burned out from stress and fatigue, and some mentors stopped working, which meant that work with the girls came to a halt. However, the team decided not to give up.

“We wanted to overcome these difficulties and find a way out of the situation. For the sake of those girls and women who need support, help and a new lease of life,” recalls Kateryna Chirkova.

Therefore, the activists wanted to implement a project with their usual focus (involving a new generation of activists and leaders in the Girl Guides movement, training and networking), but with a new target audience – girls living in villages. This idea was implemented by applying for a grant competition under the Women’s Voice and Leadership – Ukraine project, implemented by the Ukrainian Women’s Fund with support from the Government of Canada. As part of the project, 8 online trainings and meetings were held on various topics, including, for example, “How to become an environmental leader” or “How to plan a trip on your own”, as well as a camp in the Carpathian Mountains for girls from different regions of Ukraine. The events were attended by women of different ages (the youngest participant was 7 years old, and the oldest was 70) and from different localities. This experience was valuable for each of them: some of them planned a trip for the first time, some rested and recovered for the first time since the start of the full-scale war, and some painted a pysanka (Ukrainian Easter egg) for the first time. The activists and the girls themselves note the importance of different experiences for the formation of an independent personality: self-confidence comes with new skills and knowledge. The practical skills were complemented by various interesting facts about the history of Ukrainian feminism to inspire the girls and show them how different Ukrainian women can be.

“Some of them saw snow for the first time or took a train for the first time. Our sessions were aimed to show the essence of women’s leadership, both in the historical aspect – the history of feminism and Ukrainian women’s costumes, which showed free, educated women – and in the opportunities that the world offers girls and women today,” Kateryna says about the camp. 

The camp also gave them the opportunity to volunteer, as one of the components of guiding is to serve the community.

In general, such activities are particularly valuable for girls from rural areas who are equally motivated and capable but lack many opportunities in their communities.

“We found girls in towns and villages where we were not yet represented. We also noticed a lot of timidity and inertia among girls and their parents from rural areas. We had to invite many of them several times and explain a lot of details that are rarely considered when working with active girls. The project has opened up great horizons for work and its necessity,” concludes Kateryna.

The project was also valuable for the activists themselves, as they saw a new vector of very important work, and also became represented in new communities and more visible among other scouting organisations.

AUG representatives were also able to highlight the experience of Ukrainian Guiding at various international events thanks to a travel grant for activists and representatives of women’s/feminist organisations within the framework of the Women’s Voice and Leadership – Ukraine project. In 2023, Kateryna Chirkova attended the World Conference on Girl Guiding, which is held every four years and brings together all the main figures in the movement. This gave the activist what she calls a “volunteer fire” of inspiration for further work, a sense of support from the international community, and the opportunity to communicate the current achievements of Ukrainian Guides and challenges for girls.

In general, the AUG’s efforts have had a lasting impact, with many participants becoming part of the Girl Guide movement. For example, girls from Melitopol and Kramatorsk who took part in this year’s events are now being mentored by other Guides, and girls aged 16-17 from Chernihiv have introduced elements of Guiding into their college. AUG also involves girls from different localities in its trips abroad, where the team represents Ukraine, giving girls experience in cultural diplomacy from an early age. The Association of Ukrainian Guides is creating a new generation of young leaders who are ready to take life into their own hands and engage in social activities.