Rotary marches towards a more diverse, equitable world

Each time the members of a Rotary club in the world, particularly in India, build a gender-segregated toilet in a school; talk about menstrual hygiene and provide girls easy-to-use and sustainable MHM kits; hold awareness sessions on the importance of educating daughters along with sons, campaign against child marriages or initiate scholarships for girls, the empowerment of girls, so high on RI President Shekhar Mehta’s agenda, is slowly, but surely taking place.

Classes in karate or any other martial arts for self-defence, teaching young girls, and boys as well, about ‘good touch-bad touch’, and giving them the confidence to not only keep at bay predators but also the support to bring them to book, skilling of young women through specialised courses, such as in beauty care, initiated for 100 speech and hearing-impacted girls by the women’s empowerment committee of RID 3232 (Rotary News, April, 2021), dissuading parents from early marriage of girls, and starting a hockey academy for rural girls in Odisha (reported by V Muthukumaran in this issue), are all projects that fit bang into the latest core mantra of Rotary International — Diversity, Equity, Inclusion (DEI).

It was great to see immediate past RI president Holger Knaack not missing a single opportunity to tell Rotarians to embrace the DEI mantra, and walk away from discrimination, racial, regional or colour prejudices. With President Mehta talking so passionately about the need to empower, and hence liberate the girl child from long decades of discrimination and unequal treatment, some headway will definitely be made this Rotary year. RIPE Jennifer Jones has already expressed her intention to take further RI’s focus on DEI.

That RI means business on DEI can be seen from its Board of Directors convening a DEI Task Force to assess the current situation within Rotary on this aspect, and develop a comprehensive plan of action with “achievable, measurable, and meaningful outcomes for Rotary”. This plan will be presented to the Board in October 2021 under the presidentship of Mehta.

How many Rotarians know that Rotary’s DEI statement was actually adopted in 2019? But now there is “a new commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion”, as at Rotary, the need to cultivatie a diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture is gaining ground.

It is not as though India is unaware or indifferent to the pressing need to empower the girl child. Thanks to discrimination against them and a heavy discount placed on daughters in our patriarchal society, the girl:boy sex ratio in the 0–6 years range has been steadily falling. In the 2011 census it had come down to 918 girls to 1000 boys from 927:1000 in 2001.

On the International Day of the Girl Child in 2014, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for the eradication of the heinous practice of female foeticide. The next January he launched the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao scheme to address this serious issue.

I watched in utter delight senior RI leaders, and Rotary leaders from across the world single out RI President Shekhar Mehta’s resolve to empower the girl child through a clutch of initiatives, and promise to work with him in this “wonderful initiative”, at a mega zoom meet held to welcome him into his new leadership role at RI.

From Rotary News, we too promise to report on our pages the concrete action being taken to empower girls, women and through them our great country, and the world. So go ahead, and let’s have details of what your clubs are doing for DEI.


Rasheeda Bhagat

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