Editor's note: Last month, Boy Scouts announced they would begin accepting girls. In this op-ed, Girl Scouts of Western Washington CEO Megan Ferland explains why they won't be following suit.
It would be difficult to pick just one thing girls learn as Girl Scouts, but if I had to choose, it would be that girls become capable of tackling pretty much anything. From creating libraries in Sierra Leone to building and programming their own robots, our girls have been doing amazing things for 105 years and counting. With the right encouragement and guidance, they grow into women who lead by example to do great things for the world.
You may have heard that Boy Scouts has decided to admit girls into their organization. Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts have intentionally been two completely separate organizations — in western Washington, the only affiliation that exists is essentially within families. And for girls’ sake, it’s important to keep in mind that there are very good reasons why all-girl environments work; the Girl Scout Research Institute is dedicated to analyzing just how effective the structure of our organization is in girls’ lives. Their research has shown that girls learn best in an all-girl, girl-led and girl-friendly environment where their specific needs are addressed and met. In all-girl environments, girls are free to practice different skills, try new things and take on leadership positions.
Girl Scouts provides a place for girls to support and encourage one another in a pressure-free environment without boys. The girl-defined and girl-led aspects of Girl Scouts are crucial to what we offer — particularly for girls who don’t have access to single-gender environments offered in the private school system. Most girls live their lives in predominantly coed environments, making the space that Girl Scouts offers imperative for nurturing collaboration instead of competition and receiving support from other girls. With this encouragement, they can stretch beyond their limits and transfer knowledge, experiences and skills to any environment, both now and in the future.
In all-girl environments, girls are free to practice different skills, try new things and take on leadership positions.
Girls in Girl Scouts can participate in outdoor activities like hiking, camping, canoeing and archery to have exciting adventures while learning important life skills. Girls also have the opportunity to take the lead in the world of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) through hands-on learning by doing. Our iconic Girl Scout Cookie Program is unrivaled in its ability to teach girls financial literacy skills for today and tomorrow. Additionally, one-of-a-kind civic engagement programming gives girls the chance to take the lead on issues they care about in their communities and be recognized by their peers and neighbors as the societal champions they are.
And only Girl Scouts gives girls the chance to pursue the most challenging, rewarding, and life-changing award for girls in the world: the Girl Scout Gold Award. Earned by six percent of Girl Scouts annually, the Gold Award requires girls to demonstrate their leadership skills by addressing a local or global community issue. Girls typically spend one to two years on their project and must establish sustainability that benefits the chosen community in the long term. Girls’ projects range from ones that address poverty to illiteracy to environmentalism.
Without question, earning a Gold Award is among the most demanding and gratifying things a girl can do in Girl Scouts — or anywhere else. Gold Award Girl Scouts rate their overall life success significantly higher than their peers and report greater success in reaching their goals in many specific areas, including higher education, life skills, and community involvement. Earning their Gold Award also has other benefits, such as being recognized by some colleges and universities during the admissions process as well as by the military, allowing new recruits to enter a grade higher.
I’m so proud to be a part of this organization and I get to see each day the critical importance of giving girls a place where they can be free to be themselves in an environment with others who share their unique perspective on the world. Whether a girl achieves the coveted status of a Gold Award Girl Scout or not, the courage, confidence and character each girl gains will guide her throughout her life. This is the Girl Scout way.