Every girl needs a best friend

Adolescence is a tricky period in a girl’s life. From rapid changes in your body to the prospect of adult relationships it’s a time of huge upheaval – all too often coming alongside exams and other academic pressures. Fortunately, girls are often surrounded by allies to help them through this passage of their lives: their friends. The friendships you form in your teens stay with you your whole life – it’s a deep bond, burned in deeper than your first kiss.

We turn to our friends when we need help in this period of our lives. Parents can be too busy, or too old, too tied up in their own problems. Teachers don’t always seem to have the time. And some things are just too embarrassing to talk about with an adult. They wouldn’t get it. But your friends do: they’re navigating the same sea, after all.

But while solidarity between friends is one of the things that helps us endure adolescence, it’s also true that it places a lot of weight on teenage relationships. Parents have experience; school counsellors have training; teachers have safeguarding responsibilities. But the advice from your friend may not be reliable. This is not dangerous when it’s about whether or not you look good in maxi skirts – but it might be when it comes to abusive relationships.

Pilot scheme

That’s why we created the Best Friend’s Handbook, as a pilot scheme. We know that girls want to help each other, and we wanted to give them the tools to do that safely. With support from FiLiA and SafeLives, we wrote, designed, printed and distributed pocket sized guidebooks to help girls help each other. We researched common issues and wrote practical solutions aimed at girls and young women. We designed the booklet in a way to appeal to teenage girls and young women. And we compiled a directory, which would signpost them to trusted organisations if they had a problem we couldn’t deal with.


And when we had finished this work, we wanted to find out if it was doing what we wanted it to do. We took it to a conference, and a seminar. We offered to share it in schools, charities, and girls’ groups. We gave copies to girls, gathering their feedback. We asked them to be our friends, and tell us what we needed to do to make it perfect.

And we found that by and large, we were getting it right. On the most important measure – did it make girls feel more able to support their friends? – 80% strongly agreed that it did.

They loved the design, the warm colours and natural imagery. They appreciated the easy-to-read, relatable writing style that we’d struggled over. We’d expected to come back and start again, ready to make major revisions, but we were at least 80% of the way there already. Inside and outside of Wales, organisations were keen to use our resource, recognising a way to provide supportive frameworks for girls within their existing relationships. They snapped them up, recognising the power of feminist analysis to support teenage girls. It was covered in Nation Cymru. It was covered in the Morning Star. We were invited to supply booklets to a summer camp for girls organised by nia and Southall Black Sisters, pioneering organisations dealing with male violence against women and girls.

Why it’s needed

We would like to think that’s just because we came up with a great resource. But sadly, one of the reasons the uptake was so enthusiastic was that these supportive frameworks are desperately needed due to a misogynist culture, where girls and young women face objectification, abuse and violence from boys and men.

The statistics from Estyn tell a sorry story.

  • 80% of girls think schools need to do more to support young people’s sex and relationships education, and to tackle sexual harassment in school
  • Nearly three-quarters (72%) of young women say sexist behaviour makes them feel uncomfortable
  • 62% of young women say comments about their body or uniform have made them feel uncomfortable
  • 30% of young women don’t feel safe from sexual harassment in school
  • Almost a third of girls (32%) think schools wouldn’t take reports of sexual harassment seriously
  • 58% think racism is a problem at their school and 40% of those who have witnessed sexual name calling (and 46% of Black girls) have heard it reference race
  • 60% think homophobia is a problem at their school, and 55% of those who have witnessed sexual name calling have heard it reference sexuality
  • 1 in 4 girls have shared a sexual image of themselves (24%) and of those, a quarter (24%) said they felt pressured into it, and almost a third (31%) initially wanted to but later regretted it.
  • Almost 1 in 4 (24%) girls in mixed sex schools say they have been the subject of unwanted sexual touching at school.

In this environment, girls need all the support they can get. We’re proud to be helping them support each other.

Follow A Best Friend’s Handbook on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Email [email protected] to take part in our pilot scheme or if you have any questions.

About us

Jo has a PhD in criminology with specific expertise in harmful traditional practices, and was formerly a graphic designer for several national publications.

Ali has extensive knowledge and expertise on the VAWDASV agenda, and has worked in the sector for 25 years. She is a qualified and registered social worker and has gained the Welsh Government’s Group 5 accreditation for VAWDASV Service Managers.