The Boy Scouts of America will allow girls to enroll into its Cub Scouts through a new separate program and allow them to eventually earn the highest rank of Eagle Scout starting in 2018, the organization said in a statement on Wednesday.
Packs will have the option to either remain single-gender or have girls and boys in the larger group together, according to Boy Scouts of America leaders. It hopes to have the program in place in 2019.
"The values of Scouting - trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind, fearless and reverent, for example - are important for both young men and women", Michael Surbaugh, the organization's chief executive, said in a news release.
It added that the move is also geared toward Hispanic and Asian communities, which are "currently underserved" and "prefer to participate in activities as a family".
In January, the Boy Scouts made a decision to allow transgender boys to join and welcomed its first transgender member, a 9-year-old from New Jersey, the next month.
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In a scathing letter published by BuzzFeed News at the time, Girl Scouts National Board President Kathy Hopinkah Hannan called the Boy Scouts' plan unsettling and said it would only serve to undercut the Girl Scouts. Reasons include competition from youth sports leagues, a perception by some families that they are old-fashioned and busy schedules that prompt some parents to despair of meeting all their children's obligations.
Earlier this year, the National Organization for Women encouraged the Boy Scouts to accept women, joining the efforts of NY teen Sydney Ireland in her bid to become an Eagle Scout.
The organization has had co-ed programs since 1971.
A BSA statement the decision to include girls comes after years of requests from parents, after researching the issue, and after gathering input form current BSU members and leaders. Earlier this year, Girl Scouts USA reported 1.5 million youth members. Officials said they went through "months of trying to engage with Leadership from the Girl Scouts organization" so they could "identify areas of opportunities for alignment in the future".
The announcement about welcoming girls came on the International Day of the Girl, which the United Nations says, "aims to highlight and address the needs and challenges girls face, while promoting girls' empowerment and the fulfillment of their human rights".