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As the Boy Scouts of America National Jamboree continues this week in Fayette County, there are more females on site than ever before. There’s a growing impact on girls furthering their scouting ambitions, and the boys are learning a new thing or two as well.
Females in the BSA are nothing new. In 1969, the Sea Scouts welcomed females. Girls have been members of Venturing, a core scouting program for young men and women ages 14 through 20, since 1998. Girls were welcomed into the Cub Scouts in 2018, and joined the newly formed Scouts BSA in 2019. There are now scout troops for girls, for boys and co-ed troops.
Volunteer Jamboree Chairman Tico Perez said it is an extraordinary addition to welcome female BSA Scouts for the first time to the 2023 National Jamboree.
“I was watching units side by side, putting their tents together in their campsite yesterday,” Perez said. “All the boys were working on their own tents and getting it together. And all the girls were in swarms working on a tent and the next tent and the next 10. The teamwork and the communication was phenomenal. So it’s a difference in style. And it’s a beautiful thing for our boys to learn.”
Kim Irwin, a scoutmaster with a female troop in Greencastle, Pennsylvania, said there’s nothing gender specific about scouting’s commitment to outdoor adventure, diversity and leadership.
“It builds their development, and the girls weren’t getting that,” Irwin said. “There’s Girl Scouts and Girl Scouts is great. There’s nothing wrong with Girl Scouts, it’s just different. And this, I like the way it’s run. When we look at females in general, we’re not always good at promoting ourselves and may have to promote ourselves in these rank advancement meetings. I’ve seen my daughter go from sort of sheepish and meek and I just yelled at her to go do sustainability because she’s nearly Eagle.”
Scout BSA Aaron Anderson, from Charleson, South Carolina, said her all-female troop 742 is in the process of adding on a brother troop. But she added that she wouldn’t trade her scouting experiences so far, for the world.
“We’ve been able to grow with all these girls and be able to do all these experiences in scouting,” Anderson said. “I know a lot of the girls in our troop, they’ve been in it with their brothers through Cub Scouts. And so once they were finally able to join, I know that a lot of them saw they could experience a lot of the fun things that you see all the other people doing, and they would like, you know, get rank and get patches and camp out with everyone.”
Girls in Boy Scouts has given some parents some pause due to a history of sexual abuse charges. In 2020, the Boy Scouts of America filed for a Chapter 11 financial restructuring to offer “equitable compensation” to survivors and their families. The BSA cited approximately 200 pending lawsuits in state and federal district courts across the United States and 1700 potential claimants in total.
Recognizing the increased risk of abuse in volunteer youth organizations, the BSA created a sex abuse education and prevention program called the Youth Protection program in 1988 to address the problem. Perez said 35 years later, scouting has been labeled as the gold standard of youth protection.
“It’s a valid concern for parents in any organization they’re involved with,” Perez said. “Answer one is get involved. But more importantly, we have the most stringent youth protection program in America. We have a buddy system, we have two on one adults to youth, we have mandatory reporting. We are the best place to put your child. Did we make some mistakes in the 60s in the 70s? We did admittedly. And we want to compensate everybody who we had a problem with. But we have learned many, many lessons and this is the safest place for your child. The only way to make it even safer is for that adult to be involved in that unit and come out and experience scouting with their children.”
Scoutmaster Irwin said those types of problems can happen anywhere. in schools, churches. She says if there’s bad in human nature, bad can get in.
“As someone who was a pediatric nurse prior to teaching, I saw the horrible things that happened to kids,” she said. “But I’m also seeing all of this and this is amazing. And I know there were a lot of naysayers with females entering BSA as well, like it’s gonna cause problems, boys and girls. My kids go to church camp, and it’s boys and girls together. They go to 4-H camp and it’s boys and girls together. So now our girls have a chance to be Eagle Scouts.”
14-year-old Ruth Olsen from Utah said she wants to try everything scouting has to offer so she can “learn stuff”.
“I think it’s good that girls have the same opportunities as boys because I think girls are a lot more capable than people think we are,” Olsen said.
The 2023 Scouting Jamboree at Summit Bechtel Reserve in Fayette County runs through July 28.