The Covid lockdown notwithstanding, a group of four women Rotarians from across the world have created an exclusive platform for women Rotarians to brainstorm and coordinate activities that can transform communities. What began as a casual Whatsapp group by Sharmila Nagarajan
of RC Towers Hamlets, London, to beat boredom, has now transformed into a full-fledged Rotary International Women’s (RIW) group which had 251 members across 21 countries by November-end. Sharmila, along with B Dakshayani, RC Chennai Meenambakkam, Vidhya Srini, RC Chennai Temple City, and Denise Kilschan, RC Ibiza, Spain, are the founding members of RIW which was formed in April this year.
Women Rotarians are welcome to join RIW, says Dakshayani. “Our projects are concentrated on Rotary’s seven areas of focus and as a global group we look at activities for the global good. Rotary leaders all over the world have been supportive of our group,” she adds.
RIW has been organising virtual sessions every month. The audience has male Rotarians too who are vocal with their constructive suggestions and appreciation. The July session titled Power Up had RI President Holger Knaack as chief guest where he stressed on Rotary’s diversity, equity and inclusion policy. He called upon clubs to encourage women in leadership positions. “This year we will have six women on the RI Board and during RIPE Shekhar Mehta’s tenure there will be nine, including RIPN Jennifer Jones,” he said.
In this interactive meet, he urged Rotary Action Groups (RAGs) to work in tandem with clubs/districts in the region as “RAGs support Rotary to achieve its strategic plans and enhance membership.” His wife Susanne shared her journey as a Rotarian since 2014 when she chartered an e-club in Germany. “We started in September and by December we had 14 women and nine men. Now we are 36 members — 11 women and 25 men.” To Vidhya’s question on what would bring more women to Rotary, Susanne said, “Flexibility,” adding that her e-club is convening meeting at 9pm “instead of the lunch or breakfast meeting that regular Rotary clubs follow.”
Would you be interested to serve as a director for an RAG in your region, asked Vidhya. Susanne’s reply: “For now I am happy to be in Holger’s team. His role is more important now. If his woman is doing another important role, that is not good for Rotary. We need diversity; not a couple who is doing a lot of things.”
On the second Saturday of every month the group discusses women-related issues with a global audience. Menstrual health and hygiene (MHH) was discussed in one of the meets and thus was born the idea for a Rotary Action Group for MHH. Its registration with RI is under process.
In a recent meet titled Happy Periods, Global WinS Chair PRID P T Prabhakar assured WinS’ support for the group’s menstrual hygiene programmes. “Your RAG is the need of the hour as it will address poor menstrual hygiene which is a bane in most of the third world countries,” he said.
Dr Meenakshi Bharat, member of RC Bangalore West, RID 3190, spoke about the menstrual cup and reusable cloth sanitary napkins. Her suggestion that Rotary should stop investing in sanitary pad dispensing machines and incinerators was well received. She urged Rotarians to usher in a behavioural change in girls and women similar to what is being done for WinS projects.
When Prabhakar said, “This is such a wonderful topic, I wonder why Rotary did not think of it earlier,” on a lighter note Denise commented, “I think there are too many men in Rotary,” and Meenakshi added, “Men can’t think of periods!”
This RAG is open to Rotarians and non-Rotarians and it facilitates sharing best practices from across the world, says Dakshayani. “We have curated a global project on menstrual health to be carried out in 25 countries in May 2021. Next, we will form an RAG for environment protection through RIW. We will have teams to work on the various focus areas.”
RIW has had PDG Bill Gray (RID 7040, Canada), TRF Trustee Geeta Manek and RI Vice President Johrita Solari address their virtual meets. “RIPN Jennifer Jones has also accepted our invitation to address us. We are planning a bigger meet with senior leaders including PRIPs Mark Maloney and Wilf Wilkinson in February in line with the International Service month,” says Dakshayani who is the district director for International services for the year.
RI has set a goal to increase the number of women in Rotary and in leadership positions to 30 per cent by 2022–23 and RIW will work in that direction, she smiles.