Though Rotary was born 114 years ago, it is only 31 years since women became members of this prestigious organisation, says Veena Pathy, wife of DG A V Pathy, RID 3201. The district celebrated this landmark, for the second year, with 20 Rotary clubs jointly hosting a women’s conclave — Inspire 2k19 — in Kochi recently. The event was attended by 180 Rotarians.
DG Pathy, inaugurating the conclave, said, “Including women in Rotary is not just about fairness or equality. Diversity yields better outcomes, and clubs that reflect the communities they serve may be able to better engage those communities and meet their needs.” There is a large and growing number of women in senior business and community roles with a great deal to contribute through Rotary. “We must ensure that they gravitate towards our organisation,” he added.
Women were allowed to join Rotary after a long-haul debate since 1950 when an Indian club — RC Ahmedabad — made a proposal that the word “male” be deleted from the Standard Rotary Club Constitution. But the CoL voted against the proposal. Again, proposals made in 1964, 1972, 1977 were all rejected at the Council. When RC Duarte in California chose to admit women as members in violation of the RI Constitution, the club was terminated in 1978. The club filed a lawsuit against RI but lost the case. The real breakthrough came on May 4, 1987, when the US Supreme Court ruled that Rotary clubs could no longer exclude women from membership on the basis of gender. RC Duarte was reinstated and it had its first woman president.
Today, there are well over 200,000 women Rotarians across the globe. “We’ve come a long way as women in Rotary. I am very thankful that the decision was made to allow women to join,” said Swetha Vasudevan, a member of RC Cochin. She spoke on ‘Rooted in Rotary’ at the Conclave. “My feet are firmly planted in Rotary,” said this second-generation Rotarian who has breathed and lived Rotary since childhood as her father is a member of the same club. Gender diversity is vital for maintaining and expanding Rotary’s membership base, and in some places, the rate of volunteering for service projects among women is higher, and growing faster than men. More women in Rotary will translate to better delivery of services, as “women are born multitaskers and more compassionate,” she pointed out.
The RI Board has recently passed the diversity policy and RI President Barry Rassin is urging clubs to induct more women and those from other underrepresented groups to take on leadership roles. “As more diverse candidates are elected, the pool of candidates who can serve at the senior leadership level increases too,” he says.
The conclave discussed ideas on how to attract service-oriented women into Rotary.
District Chair – Women in Rotary, Lakshmi Narayanan said, “We need to work hard to encourage more women to join Rotary and dispel the myth that they are not welcome. The future of Rotary depends on enthusiastic membership.”
Dr Ushy Mohandas, talking on the Power of Vulnerability, pointed out that vulnerability is the strength of women. “Yes. We are vulnerable; we tend to break. But only when we break, we understand our strength. Women are resilient and we rise with a bigger force after a fall.”
Justice A K Jayasankaran Nambiar, from Kerala High Court, a past Rotarian of RC Cochin, spoke about the rights of women and interpretation of the laws. Regional Chair – Women in Rotary, Nazreen Anil proposed a vote of thanks.
Four beneficiaries gave moving accounts of how Rotary changed their lives.
Ajitha of RCC Perumbalam, sponsored by RC Cochin, spoke on how the club had transformed her village. Right from building bathrooms to upgrading schools and a hospital, the club is working with this island-village since the 1990s.
The Surya project of RC Cochin Global reaches out to visually-impaired people and apart from skilling them, also supports them with classes on mobility, personality development and spoken English. Susheela and Juvanie, two beneficiaries of this project, spoke on how the club improved their lives.
Saritha Kariapilly from the Chendamandalam weaving village shared how RC Cochin Knights helped in reviving their looms and purchasing yarn, as well as repairing their flood-affected homes.