Girl Guides of Canada to rename its Brownies program to be more inclusive

The Girl Guides of Canada have been active since 1910. (Glenn Reid/CBC - image credit)
The Girl Guides of Canada have been active since 1910. (Glenn Reid/CBC - image credit)

The Girl Guides of Canada announced Tuesday they will be renaming their Brownies branch to be more inclusive.

"We made that decision because we heard from girls and from former members and current members that the name caused them harm," Jill Zelmanovits, the CEO of Girl Guides of Canada, told CBC News.

Zelmanovits said talks about changing the name began in 2020 during the pandemic. She said she heard some girls wanted to be members, but the name didn't make them feel like they belong.

"Sometimes that meant that they would join when they were younger and then skip over that particular branch, sometimes it meant they would delay joining the organization all together until after that branch or sometimes they just wouldn't come at all," Zelmanovits said.

In a news release, the organization said the move was an "important and necessary step to creating an inclusive and equitable space where every racialized girl in Canada feels like they belong and are welcome in guiding."

Girl Guides of Canada said it has consulted with "racialized members, past members and the community and will be calling on current members to help decide on a new branch name."

Evan Mitsui/CBC
Evan Mitsui/CBC

The new name for the program for girls aged seven and eight has not yet been decided. In late November, members will be invited to help choose from a shortlist of two names, according to the Girl Guides website. The new name will be announced in January and will take effect in September 2023.

"The two shortlisted names are inclusive, fun, and reflect how girls see themselves in Guiding," the website reads.

Evan Mitsui/CBC
Evan Mitsui/CBC

"These names came from themes which were developed in consultation with racialized girls in Guiding, the National Indigenous Advisory Circle, community partners and organizations, as well as GGC National Youth Council, Provincial Commissioners and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Facilitators."

Zelmanovits said the uniform will stay the same, but it won't have the name Brownies on it anymore.

Critics of the change say the origin of the name has nothing to do with race. Brownies are fairies in Scottish folklore.

Zelmanovits said she understands people feel nostalgia for the name.

"Their experiences won't change. So the fun programming, the camping, the STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] , the arts and crafts. All of that is going to stay the same. And for the women who have those memories, those don't have to change either," Zelmanovits said.

"The only thing that's changing is the name. And we're really hoping this means more girls will be able to make more of those amazing memories these women have."