Pro-abortion campaigner is new head of Girl Guides: Which she describes as 'the ultimate feminist organisation'
Julie Bentley, 43, is former head of the Family Planning AssociationFormer Girl Guides include Cat Deeley, Carol Vorderman, Zoe Ball and Emma Thompson
01:56 GMT, 16 November 2012
Julie Bentley: 'Girls today face real and unique challenges as they grow up – I want our programme to continue responding to those challenges'
A leading abortion rights campaigner has been named as the new chief executive of the Girl Guides.
Julia Bentley – who for five years ran the campaign group supporting abortion rights and sex education – said that she was delighted at her appointment to ‘the ultimate feminist organisation’.
However, her role at Girlguiding UK has raised eyebrows among some religious groups and those who are concerned about the premature sexualisation of girls.
Under Miss Bentley’s leadership the fpa – formerly known as the Family Planning Association – has distributed condom demonstrators for use by girls as young as 11 and opened an online sex shop selling sex toys and aids to customers of any age.
Girlguiding UK yesterday said that girls face challenges growing up and Miss Bentley will ‘ensure guiding continues to meet those challenges head on’.
Miss Bentley also insisted that there was no contradiction between her previous work at the fpa and her appointment to the 85,000-a-year job.
‘I have worked in a wide range of settings and I have a broad insight into what affects girls,’ she said. ‘I don’t think any of this is at odds with the Girl Guides. In fact I believe the Guides is the ultimate feminist organisation.’
The move comes at a time when the movement has been in competition with the Scouts to attract members.
Although the female-only Guides have 538,000 members from the age of 11, the Scouts, who have been recruiting girls since the 1970s, have more than 66,000 in their ranks.
Confidence: Julie Bentley hopes to encourage young girls to become confident, self-assured women
Miss Bentley’s appointment was criticised by Christian groups and family campaigners last night.
They claimed that the campaigner was an unsuitable figure to run the movement which should provide girls with an alternative to celebrity culture and early sex.
Back in the day: A Brownie in 1970s England
Mike Judge, of the Christian Institute think-tank, said: ‘I do not think she is a fitting individual to run the Girl Guides.
‘The Girl Guides is an organisation which should protect girls from these sorts of pressures.’
Jill Kirby, an author and researcher specialising in social policy, said: ‘One of the reasons why girls want to join the Guides, and their parents are happy that they should do so, is that they can learn leadership qualities and escape from the sex and television culture.
‘I would have hoped that anyone leading the Guides would understand that. I don’t believe that Miss Bentley does.’
The fpa was one of the leading state-subsidised organisations which, under Tony Blair’s government, attempted to reduce teenage pregnancy rates.
Although levels did fall, the campaign fell far short of its target of halving pregnancies among girls under 18.
It is currently selling a condom demonstrator as part of a catalogue of ‘young people resources aged 11 and above’ alongside sex education leaflets for girls of 12 and over.
One booklet, called Sex, Love, Relationships, tells young readers they are ready for sex if they can answer ‘yes’ to four questions.
It says: ‘Ask yourself these questions: Do you want to have sex (for you, not for someone else) Do you like, trust, respect your partner
‘Are you prepared to take responsibility
for having safer sex Are you prepared for the possible emotional
rollercoaster of rejection or break-up’
The way we were: English Girl Guides in Hertfordshire in 1950
DID YOU KNOWOne in five girls think women are treated less fairly by employersA fifth worry their career chances are worse than their mothers Two thirds believe woman are still judged more on looks than abilityOne-in-three would consider surgery to change their appearance
This year the organisation has opened an online shop, Desire And Pleasure, which sells a wide range of sex toys and aids alongside condoms. Items on sale include ‘bondage gear’.
Miss Bentley said in an interview with The Times: ‘Everyone has heard of the Girl Guides but not everyone understands that today it is very different.
‘They are rooted to the image of what the Guides were years ago. I want to help the public understand what they Guides are now.
‘It is not about itchy brown uniforms and sewing and baking. It is a modern, contemporary, vibrant organisation.
‘Guides in 2012 are more likely to be investigating a muddy ravine, going overseas to help on an Aids programme, or going to one of our pop concerts.’
Girlguiding UK is Britain’s largest voluntary organisation for girls and young women, with more than 500,000 members and recognised volunteers.
Over a third of girls and young women aged seven to 21 have been involved with the movement, with former Guides including Carol Vorderman and Emma Thompson.
There are now 31million Scouts and ten million Guides in 216 countries around the world.
The organisation was formed before the First World War following the success of the Boy Scout movement, founded by Robert Baden-Powell.
The Boer War hero disapproved of girls and boys mixing freely and so encouraged his sister Agnes to set up a girls-only organisation.
It was named after a frontier regiment in the Indian Army.
FUN FACTS ABOUT GIRL GUIDES
Former Girl Guide: TV presenter Cat Deeley
Girlguiding UK is the largest youth organisation for girls in the UK todayGirlguiding UK has half a million young members aged four to 25Around a quarter of all eight-year-old girls in the UK are BrowniesOne in ten of all 11-year-old girls in the UK are GuidesMembers today can take part in a wide range of activities from abseiling to party planning and from circus skills to survivalGirlguiding UK is a founder member of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, the largest youth organisation for girls in the world with more than ten million members in 144 countriesCelebrity former members include Cat Deeley, Glenda Jackson, Lorraine Kelly, Mo Mowlan, Anita Roddick, Helen Sharman (the first British woman in space), Tanni Grey-Thompson, Zoe Ball, Emma Thompson, Gail Porter, Carole Vorderman, Carol Smillie, Davina McCall and Cherie Booth.Girl Guides run Rainbows (5–7 years), Brownies (7–10 years), Guides (10–14 years) and Senior Section (14–25 years)