France does not look like a pioneer, but for Americans attending the World Scout Jamboree, she is one of a new breed.
France is attending the jamboree as a member of the Scouts BSA program, formerly called the Boy Scout program. Although girls from older youth programs in the U.S. have attended World Scout Jamborees before, she is one of the first to attend in a Scouts BSA uniform.
Her presence was made possible by a significant change in policy made by the Boy Scouts of America on 01 February 2019. This change allowed girls to enter the program for 11 – 17-year-old youth for the first time.
“It’s awesome!” France says, “It’s very rewarding. It feels right.” Although she had been a member of the Venturing program for two and a half years, she watched the Boy Scout experience of her brother Michael who is four years younger. She found herself interested in an opportunity to earn the coveted Eagle Scout Award.
When France learned that a troop was forming near her, the 18-year-old from the U.S. state of North Carolina quickly joined. In the U.S. girls are accommodated in Scouts BSA in single-gender troops. France is at the jamboree as assistant senior patrol leader of Jamboree Troop 252 which consists of of young women from the southern United States. So far, she has spent her time exploring the jamboree like any Scout. For example, she and her friends have explored the Sustainability Treehouse and done bouldering, climbing, and rappelling at Boulder Cove.
The hopes and enthusiasm of France may be typical of her peers in other countries. “Scouting is the only place that is the same for girls as for boys,” said Laura from Spain. “They teach you that you can do anything, to be equal.” Amy of the Netherlands says that Scouting provides something critical for girls, “They need support for believing that they can do it.” Romina of Chile sees little added value in gender-specific programs. “It’s the same when co-ed,” she says.
Girls have belonged to older youth programs of the Boy Scouts of America for nearly 50 years. The BSA change to co-ed took the U.S. off the shortlist of national scouting organizations that are boy-only programs.
“I’m getting more leadership experience, lots of adventure and lots of stories,” France says. “I feel like I’m part of something bigger!”