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Boy Scouts of AmericaBucking over a century of tradition, the Boy Scouts of America’s scouting board of directors voted unanimously to allow girls to join the organization. The decision followed years of requests from both girls who wanted to join and families who wanted their daughters to join the Boy Scouts. Part of the reasoning for the decision was based on the increased number of single-parent households who want to be able to take their children of both genders to the same activity.

According to a statement by Michael Surbaugh, the Boy Scouts of America’s Chief Scout Executive, the decision to allow girls to join the Boy Scouts stays true to the core values and mission of the Boy Scouts. “The values of Scouting–trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind, brave and reverent, for example–are important for both young men and women,” said Surbaugh. “We believe it is critical to evolve how our programs meet the needs of families interested in positive and lifelong experiences for their children. We strive to bring what our organization does best–developing character and leadership for young people–to as many families and youth as possible as we help shape the next generation of leaders.”

The addition of girls to the ranks of the Boy Scouts will allow teen girls to obtain the prestigious rank of Eagle Scout beginning in 2019 while younger girls will be able to start in the iconic Cub Scout program. The decision of how to integrate girls into the ranks will be left to existing packs. Packs may choose to establish a new girl pack, a pack that consists of both girl and boy dens or remain a pack of all boys. Regardless of how each pack chooses, Cub Scout dens will remain single-gender.

The lack of a clear program for female Eagle Scouts has earned some wariness from families who are still waiting to see what that program will look like. The decision to allow girls into the Boy Scouts has also drawn fire from those who feel that the decision was based not on a true desire to welcome girls into the fold, but on a need to be politically correct after the organization was criticized over the last few years for its views on gay and transgender leaders.

The Boy Scouts of America have also faced push back from the Girl Scouts. A letter from Kathy Hopinkah Hannan, the president of the Girl Scouts, claims that the Boy Scouts were running a “covert campaign” to gain female members and thus undercutting Girl Scout participation. The letter requested that the Boy Scouts work on recruiting the boys who were not members of the Boy Scouts instead of working to gain female Boy Scouts. The letter also questioned the Boy Scouts’ ability to achieve the same result with girls as boys given the Boy Scouts’ plan appears to simply take their current program tailored to grooming boys to be leaders and apply it to girls. Hannan’s letter went on to point out that the Girl Scouts were well practiced in training women leaders and mentioned research that pointed to the benefits of a single-gender environment.

Despite all the press surrounding this decision, girls have actually been involved in the Boy Scouts since 1971. While not eligible to achieve the rank of Eagle Scout, girls have participated in mixed gender opportunities offered by the Boy Scouts such as the Exploring and Venturing programs. Venturing works with youth ages 14 to 21 and emphasizes adventure, leadership, service and personal growth. Exploring has two age groups, Explorer Clubs and Explorer Posts. Explorer Clubs serve middle school youth, ages 10 to 13, while Explorer Posts works with older boys and girls, aged 14 to 20. Both age groups are modeled on the same program, which involves “hands-on and interactive character and career activities [facilitated] by trained business leaders in [the] local community.”

The official admission of girls in the Boy Scouts may help boost participation in the organization which has been declining in recent years. In the early 2000’s, the Boy Scouts of America had a membership of roughly 4 million, but membership had dropped to 2.3 million by 2016. At a minimum, the historic vote has generated a great deal of press for the Boy Scouts and put the organization in the spotlight once again.

 

Guest post by Stephanie Hertzenberg. Stephanie  is a graduate of the College of William and Mary where she received her degree in Religious Studies and Creative Writing. She currently works as a freelance writer from her home in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

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