Southside Uniting Church member Caitlyn Robinson has been selected as one of six young women from around the world to attend the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women conference later this month as part of the Girls’ Brigade International’s Delegation of Hope team. Ben Rogers reports on Caitlyn’s remarkable achievement and how the Brigade has been crucial for her personal development.
As part of a worldwide Christian movement, the Girls’ Brigade has been partnering with churches around the world for over 100 years, with the mission to see girls’ lives transformed and God’s world enriched.
Generations of young women from Africa to the Asia-Pacific, Europe to the Americas, have been empowered to seek, serve and follow Christ through their participation with the Girls’ Brigade. For Brisbane-based Caitlyn Robinson, the movement has been a significant part of her life since she was introduced to it through a family friend.
“I came along to Girls’ Brigade with a friend on Friday night,” says Caitlyn. “I had just moved to a new church, and they happened to have a Girls’ Brigade company as part of their ministry, so I went along to see if I would enjoy it. I ended up officially joining Girls’ Brigade the next year.”
Girls’ Brigade: relational, responsive, relevant
Australian Girls’ Brigade groups work with churches in a variety of ways but they all retain the same core aim to help girls of primary and high school age to live life to the full in relationship with Jesus. By offering a range of programs and challenging activities that help build deeper relationships between the girls, their leaders and the church, the Brigade has been a cornerstone for personal growth for young women like Caitlyn and has assisted in developing leadership skills.
“My first night of attendance, I could not have imagined that I would be provided with so many opportunities for growth,” Caitlyn reminisces. “There is something unique about being surrounded by a group of women who have committed their Friday nights to empower the next generation of girls.
“I have been attending church since I was born but Girls’ Brigade supported me to make my faith my own and has always encouraged us to carve our own path and provide us with the tools to make that happen. I attended our three-year leadership course throughout my senior high school, trained during weekend programs and became immersed in the opportunities Girls’ Brigade offered me.”
Delegation of Hope
One major opportunity the Girls’ Brigade offers is the Delegation of Hope team who will attend the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women conference which focuses on women’s health, security, human rights and empowerment. Six young women from around the world will represent the Girls’ Brigade at the conference and host a parallel session— “She Speaks: Young Women on Faith, Life and Transformational Acts”—in the Church Centre for the United Nations.
Caitlyn applied for the opportunity through a multi-round process which required her to fill out an online application form detailing her faith, advocacy work and social justice experience as well as attend interviews in the later rounds. Caitlyn was eventually selected as the Pacific Fellowship representative (encompassing Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands) and her advocacy work was a key selection criteria.
“A key part of the process was seeking applicants who had experience in advocacy work,” explains Caitlyn. “Throughout high school, I participated in the 40 Hour Famine and ran lunchtime information sessions to help students with their fundraising.
“To raise money for charities I care about, I also set up my business, Cait’s Charity Cards, with two-thirds of the profits donated to charity. I have now chosen to focus my advocacy work on the issue of women’s education which was a key theme in my application.”
The 64th Commission on the Status of Women conference will take place in New York in March and focus on the current challenges that impact the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of women. For Caitlyn, attendance will be a vital opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the issues women face around the world.
“The church is placed in a unique position within the community to implement changes which align with the global agenda for gender equality and attending this conference will equip me with the tools and knowledge to identify how we may use our position in the community to make a difference for women,” says Caitlyn.
During the conference Caitlyn will also speak about the importance of women’s education alongside her fellow Delegation of Hope representatives at the “She Speaks” parallel session.
A church-centred organisation
While Caitlyn’s local church, Southside Uniting Church (Mount Gravatt, Brisbane), provides the use of its premises every Friday for the Brigade, the connections between the church and Girls’ Brigade run much deeper, and through initiatives like celebrating Girls’ Brigade achievements in church parades there is a real sense that the Brigade is a ministry of the church, not a disconnected activity.
“As a young female in the church, it is uplifting to see women being placed in leadership positions every Sunday; having female role models within the church who support the Girls’ Brigade creates a strong sense of congruency between what is taught at Brigade and what is modelled within the church leadership framework,” says Caitlyn. “The empowerment of women is essential to the Girls’ Brigade model, so being able to step into my church and see women at all levels of service solidifies the value of equality and altruism that is a core value of Girls’ Brigade.”
With 39 Brigade groups around Queensland, girls interested to know more should come along to a session or visit the Girls’ Brigade website for more information.
“I would strongly encourage girls and even young women to join the Girls’ Brigade,” says Caitlyn. “When I first started at my company, I could not have imagined the impact it would have on my leadership capacity, faith, and long-lasting friendships.”
From a chance Friday night trip to her local church to attending conferences at the United Nations, Caitlyn’s incredible journey with the Girls’ Brigade should serve as inspiration that the Christian faith is central to transforming lives in positive and surprising ways.
For more information about the Girls’ Brigade in Queensland, visit girlsbrigade.org.au/state/qld