Lessons from Girl Guides: leading with equity

How South Asian women in Girl Guides are using its lessons to empower young girls to become future leaders

Reading Time: 4 minutes


Every Monday afternoon, I make my way to Girl Guides Cherrybrook, just as I have for the past 14 years.

From joining Girl Guides at 6 years old, to now being a Unit Leader, I have seen the organisation mould to the increasingly diverse perspectives welcomed to the Cherrybrook area over the past decade.

Founded to provide young girls and women with the resources to build leadership skills, the enduring organisation has given women across Australia a platform for self-discovery in their local communities.

Cherrybrook Guide Hall
Source: Supplied

From being the only member of South Asian heritage at some points in my Girl Guides journey, I am now joined by 3 women of Indian, Pakistani, and Sri Lankan descent in my leadership team. Working with these amazing WOC, my Monday afternoons at Cherrybrook Junior Guides continue to remind me why I am still part of this organisation after 14 years.

Our group activities for girls aged 7-10 at Cherrybrook Junior Guides typically cover a wide variety of topics such as first aid, bushwalking, even respect and consent education, but this week, we spoke about International Women’s Day (IWD). Unit Leaders Dakshata Sharma and Aliyah Khan* led the conversation on this year’s theme Embrace Equity, guiding the girls through relevant discussions and activities.

“This feels like school,” one of the young girls groaned as Sharma ushered the group to the white board.

“Well, when was the last time you talked about gender equality and stereotypes at school?” asked Sharma, the young girl shrugging and now giving her full attention.

International Women's Day activities
Source: Supplied

Dakshata Sharma has had her journey as a Girl Guide span across three different countries – India, the United Kingdom and Australia. Her particular choice in becoming a Unit Leader was underpinned by the desire to encourage more girls and women to develop their leadership skills and realise their potential in creating change.

“You can’t be who you can’t see,” Sharma told Indian Link. “Being a leader, it has become really important to remember that we are role models for the next generation of young women.”

She continued, “To show young girls that we can maintain our full-time careers and personal responsibilities alongside volunteering at Girl Guides on a weekly basis, becomes a reminder that women are unstoppable.”

Fellow leader Aliyah Khan explained how her decision to become a Unit Leader in the women-led organisation was rooted in sharing with upcoming generations the sense of empowerment she herself has felt.

“The idea of giving back and being able to help inspire young girls the way I had been, definitely motivated me,” said Khan.

“We live in an ever-changing world, and we use our roles as leaders to ensure girls, even as young as 7, are empowered and equipped to take anything on.”

Leaders lighting campfire
Source: Supplied

Girl Guides has been celebrated as an inclusive avenue with lessons encouraging young girls to push the boundaries, the ‘glass ceiling’ a mere myth when confronted by the organisation’s confident women.

Khan shared how crucial it has been to create an environment that encourages girls and women from diverse backgrounds to be confident in themselves.

“As much as we encourage girls to be pushed outside their comfort zones, it is also important that we can foster a safe space for them to discover who they truly want to be. No matter who you are or where you come from, you hold the potential to leave a lasting impact on someone even in the smallest way.”

She added, “There is a weight to our responsibility in teaching the girls about the many realities of women across the world, including what International Women’s Day means in advocating for equity. This weight has changed the way I carry myself as a role model, but I also feel more empowered in doing so.”

Sharma explained why she believes it is important for girls and women to be given the opportunity to join women-led organisations.

“What I think sets the organisation apart is the holistic educational model where you get to learn and experience things, outside a formal education system like school. On top of this, young girls learn that they should speak up, fight for themselves if necessary, and advocate for others like them – because they’re worth it.”

Cherrybrook Guide Hall
Source: Supplied

Reflecting on the lessons I have learnt from my Girl Guides journey, the skills and experiences I have gained from being a member are truly incomparable. Growing up, I hated being told that my success would be dependent on my academic skills. However, being exposed to a world beyond the ABCs and algorithms showed me that I could create an impact by simply being myself. The organisation has nurtured my individual strengths which have then extrapolated wonderfully to my life beyond the Guide Hall. Additionally, by Girl Guides enabling me to be more active in my community, I have been able to explore a variety of different lessons and perspectives that have helped me appreciate so much more, the diversity I am surrounded by.

I have been guided to realise that being a great leader ultimately means being prepared for whatever may come your way.

I am now proud to say that I have never felt more prepared to take on the world as an independent, empowered WOC. However, it makes me even prouder to know I am alongside women such as Sharma and Khan, who mirror my hopes as an emerging leader in an ever-changing world.

*Pseudonym assigned to maintain anonymity

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Suhayla Sharif
Suhayla Sharif
An emerging yet empowered voice committed to celebrating Australia's kaleidoscope of perspectives through spirited storytelling.

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