The Girl Scouts Want to Fix America's Girls By Focusing on Diversity


After completing an extensive study that revealed perhaps obvious disparities in the experiences of girls in America, the Girl Scouts are trying to do something about it, by purposefully diversifying their troops as they face declines in membership.

The extensive report, entitled The State of Girls: Unfinished Business, was developed with the Population Reference Bureau in an attempt to figure out what issues are plaguing young women today. They found “that poverty rates among black/African American, Hispanic/Latina, and Native American girls ages 5 to 17 are more than twice that of white and Asian American girls.” Despite the fact that girls today have a much better chance of graduating from high school than their male counterparts and that teen birthrates have plummeted, these accomplishments certainly look less impressive when race and ethnicity are considered; minority girls have lower graduation rates, are more likely to live in poverty, have higher rates of teen pregnancy, higher rates of obesity and are also more depressed:

Thirty-four percent of high school girls had self-reported symptoms of depression during the past year. This percentage is highest for black/African American girls. Six out of 10 black/African American girls report symptoms of depression.

As Al Jazeera reports, trying to target minority girls would, in the eyes of the Girl Scouts, not only benefit these girls but the strength of the organization as a whole, which had 2.9 million members 10 years ago, compared to 2.2 million today. They’ve tried to move into communities that have never had a Girl Scout troop, often creating real change while doing so, like in the case of one San Antonio, Texas neighborhood:

…the Girl Scouts partnered with a local university to investigate why girls in south San Antonio didn’t exercise. They received federal funding, and they got their answer: lack of outdoor exercise facilities and the threat of unleashed dogs roaming the neighborhoods.
“If a girl wants to take up running to increase her health, she can’t run because she’s got this wild pack of dogs running after her,” Chavez said.
The Girl Scouts launched a campaign to encourage residents to license their dogs and keep them on a leash. Exercise programs were introduced in local schools.

Chávez is Anna Maria Chávez, the chief executive officer of the Girl Scouts. “We can’t afford to have separate experiences for girls based on race, ethnicity, and social class,” she said in a statement with this new report. “For over one hundred years, Girl Scouts has been there for all girls, and we are now more committed than ever to lifting up any girl that is falling behind. There is a new emerging majority in this country, and Girl Scouts is set to take the lead in ensuring that all girls have equal opportunities.” She’s put her money where her mouth is: she’s been responsible for greatly increasing Hispanic membership in the GSUSA.

Chávez’s attempts to diversify the organization fits with GSUSA’s other moves to create a more modern Girl Scouts, like introducing new, more relevant badges that their members can work towards. While there have been complaints from more “traditional” former Girl Scouts who are saddened there’s less campcraft-esque Girl Scouting going on, as well as those who worry about minority women “assimilating” into Girl Scout culture and losing what makes them unique (a kind of Girl Scout gentrification, if you will), it’s hard to hate on an organization that actively promotes young women without shaming them. Especially when that organization invests time and resources into doing the research to report out stats about the issues facing girls and creates plans to actually do something with that research. It’s like activism and academia all in one. Plus with awesome snacks.

Image via Photo by John Moore/Getty.

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