EDITORIAL – Girl Scouts' history shows power of expanding women's rights

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The 100th anniversary of the founding of the Girl Scouts is an

opportunity to reflect, through the achievements of the

organization, on how far we have come, it is also a chance to shine

a light on the parts of the world where women still live as

second-class citizens.

The organization that would become the Girl Scouts of America held its first meeting 100 years ago this year. Present at that first gathering in Savannah, Ga., were 18 girls.

Today, more than 3.2 million girls and adult volunteers take part in the Girl Scouts, and more than 50 million Americans are Girl Scout alumnae. In Maine, statewide membership comes in at 11,538, more than the number of students – boys and girls – who take part in the massively popular sport of high school soccer.

The organization was founded at a time when girls and women faced limited options and low expectations. Founder Juliette Gordon Low wanted to provide Girl Scouts with new opportunities, like camping and hiking. They studied nature, astronomy and first aid. The girls needed to be prepared not only for traditional homemaking, Low thought, but for professional roles, as well.

Scouts now gain knowledge in a wide variety of fields. They still study backpacking, wilderness survival and rock climbing. But they also learn about the latest emerging fields in science and technology. They study financial literacy and environmental awareness. They perform community outreach and take part in service projects. They travel and learn about the arts.

“Today’s girls have access to life-changing experiences that inspire them to think big,” said Joan McDonald, of South Portland, the CEO of Girl Scouts of Maine. “Girl Scouts offers unique resources to help get them where they want to go. From the very beginning, Girl Scouts has been about developing leadership in girls.”

The history of the Girl Scouts mirrors a time of great change in women’s rights in the United States. The organization, which from the very beginning told girls they should not be shortchanged by a sexist society, is both a reason for and a reflection of that advancement. The United States would not be the power that it is today if half of the population were blocked from reaching its potential.

But just as this anniversary is an opportunity to reflect, through the achievements of the Girl Scouts, on how far we have come, it is also a chance to shine a light on the parts of the world where women still live as second-class citizens.

There is no shortage of examples. Late last year, an Afghan woman was released from prison after serving two years for adultery, when her only crime was being raped by a relative. In September, a Saudi woman was sentenced to 10 lashes for driving, which remains against the law in that country. Women can be imprisoned for not being completely covered in clothing. Honor killings are a fact of life still in many countries.

The promotion of women’s rights helped spur growth and prosperity in the United States, and it can do the same across the globe. It would go a long way to solving many of today’s most vexing global problems – poverty, hunger, violence. It would lead to more stable countries, and a safer world.

Each year on Feb. 22, Girls Scouts celebrate World Thinking Day, as they participate in activities with global themes to honor their sisters abroad. As we celebrate the first 100 years of the Girl Scouts, it makes sense to follow its lead and take some time to further the cause the organization was formed to uphold.

Ben Bragdon is the managing editor of Current Publishing. He can be reached at bbragdon@keepmecurrent.com or followed on Twitter.

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