Sometimes, you can get a clearer view of a situation by looking ‘from the far side of the fence’. So let’s consider the oft-raised question of Scouting ‘poaching girls’ from Guiding.
From shared original roots, over the following 80 or so years Scouting and Guiding grew into two entirely separate clubs. Each followed it’s own path under their own leadership. They existed happily alongside all the other clubs and hobbies for young people (including each other) some of which continued to thrive through the decades, and some of which died out, or amalgamated, or were reduced to a few scattered local clubs. Although Guiding continued to maintain it’s general popularity right through to the present day, there came a point when Scouting could no longer claim it was doing likewise. Their numbers were consistently dropping, in some areas to the extent that their viability was called into question. And they were not attracting as wide a cross-section of boys as before. Assorted recruitment efforts having failed to significantly alter this, they opted instead to take a much more radical step. If they couldn’t attract enough boys to ensure on-going viability - then why only boys? If they were to allow girls to become members of all sections, it would automatically more than double the pool of potential recruits! Of course, it would do nothing to resolve the question of the un-reached boys, indeed it would likely significantly worsen it, but it would potentially shore up the numbers overall). The announcement was made without warning, and caused surprise in many circles, including within Guiding (they had been in regular discussion with the Scouts about all sorts of common topics, yet had no inkling such an announcement was coming).
Once it became an option, some girls opted to leave Guiding in order to join the newly-‘open’ Scouts. Some who hadn’t been Guides joined the Scouts. Some chose to belong to both Guides and Scouts. And some girls continued to join neither. Whichever, there was sadness but limited acrimony from the Guides at the Scouts’ sudden decision to ‘go open’ once the initial shock had died down – sadness at the loss of some enthusiastic girl members, yes, but a determination to continue offering what still appeared to be attracting a consistently viable number of girls across a fair cross-section of communities around the country. The view was taken that if Guiding could continue to keep it’s programmes attractive, then it could continue to attract a viable number of girls, in which case the losses need not make a critical dent in membership. Actually, at the time, the change of policy seemed to cause more upset among Scouting than to anyone else. But Scout headquarters made it clear that whatever individual members might feel about it, it was a done deal, and all parts of Scouting would soon have to welcome any girl applicants they received, and start to transition their units towards being fully-open, with a deadline set for achieving that status.
For some years, things then bumped along more or less amicably between the clubs, at least in public. The Guides continued to recruit a similar proportion of the girls across the country as they had before. The Scouts now had enough members to be viable. Below the surface, however, in some localities there were claims of the Scouts ‘poaching girls’ from the Guides, and claims that in some Scout units the boys were ‘being swamped’ by the number of girls seeking to join. It’s hard to judge how widespread or accurate either claim was, but each has been repeated at intervals since.
Some have asked the question of whether the two clubs should merge – after all, despite the many differences which exist, they still have some things in common, in pursuing an active outdoor programme of activities, similar customs and traditions, similar ways of working (although in the detail there are some significant differences which could be major barriers). I would say not. Each time I consider it, I come back to the fact that mergers only work if there is popular support for merger from the membership of both groups, and to date the Guides’ members have made it very clear that they continue to want a girl-only space – and membership numbers show that the girl-only group remains far more popular with girls than an open group like Scouts. And now that Scouting is open, most Leaders don’t seem to feel the need to seek a merger.
From some of the Scouting forums it appears that, although the gender balance of the club membership changed a bit when they ‘went open’, real transition in attitudes, programmes and membership numbers from a boys club to a genuinely mixed group is, naturally, still some way from final fruition – many unit programmes are still much as they were before the change, with the only real concession to the fact that it is now meant to be a mixed club being the compulsory arrangements around changing areas/sleeping arrangements for girl members, not any significant change in the programme focus or ethos. It appears that in many units girls are welcome provided they are comfortable in joining a club where the focus will be on the boys’ activity tastes and preferences - which some girls are, and some aren’t. After all, what they were doing was enabling the girls to join a boy-focussed club, where the activities were designed to appeal to boys, and if they happened to appeal to girls too it was by accident not design. So a gender split approaching 50/50 (or a girl majority) is still comparatively rare in Scouting units. The extent to which they are a ‘mixed’ group (or whether their programmes should be altered to cater for a wider range of tastes and make them ‘more mixed’) is an interesting topic in itself, and is probably the next dilemma Scouting faces.
So is Guiding in competition with Scouting? Yes, of course it is. But neither more nor less so than with ballet class, swimming club, highland dancing, music lessons, drama club, Girls’ Brigade, mini rugby, tae kwon do, football, choir, and every other hobby or pastime available which the girls might choose to take up in their free time. And I don’t see much sign of any of these clubs claiming ‘poaching’ from each other as an issue. So I could equally ask, is the ballet class poaching girls from athletics club? Do the Tuesday Brownies poach girls from the Friday Brownies? Does the mini rugby team poach from the piano teacher? It is rare for any club or class to actively target the members of another club or class – and rarely very successful. Each hobby or club will and does attract a different selection of the children from the community, depending on each child’s tastes and talents - and each has to choose and agree with their folks which hobbies they would like to take up, how they can schedule them into their free time alongside homework and family commitments, and how the membership fees and other expenses will be afforded. No-one could do them all even if they wanted to, there aren’t enough hours in the day, so some options must be rejected. Do I try to poach girls from other clubs? No. My units offer the programme they offer, either that programme and the way it is delivered appeals to a particular girl or it doesn’t. Any advertising I do simply states what my unit has to offer, it makes no comment on what other clubs there are in the locality, or what they might offer.
So, the question is often asked, are Scouts ‘poaching girls’ from Guiding? And if we’re asking that question, in order to be fair, shouldn’t we simultaneously ask ourselves the reverse question - is Guiding poaching girls from Scouts?