(Reuters) - The Boy Scouts of America will let girls enroll in Cub Scouts starting in 2018 and allow them to eventually earn the highest rank of Eagle Scout through a separate program, the organization said on Wednesday.
The unanimous decision by the 100-year-old group's board of directors came after years of requests from families and girls, it said.
"We believe it is critical to evolve how our programs meet the needs of families interested in positive and lifelong experiences for their children," BSA's Chief Executive Michael Surbaugh said in a statement.
Beginning next year, families will be able to enroll their sons and daughters in Cub Scout programs. Existing packs, or community-level units, can decide to establish new girl packs or co-ed packs. They can also remain exclusive to boys.
The organization will announce a separate program for older girls using the same curriculum as the Boy Scouts program that will allow them to earn the Eagle Scout rank, the highest achievement in the BSA.
"This unique approach allows the organization to maintain the integrity of the single gender model while also meeting the needs of today's families," BSA said in a statement.
Kathy Hopinkah Hannan, president of the Girl Scouts of the USA, in an August letter to Boy Scouts President Randall Stephenson accused the BSA of a "covert campaign" to recruit girls amid "well documented" declining membership, the Washington Post reported.
A representative for the Girl Scouts of the USA did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., editing by G Crosse and Cynthia Osterman)