To tolerate discrimination against women is to doom Rotary to irrelevance

Ravindran_KR_14By K.R. Ravindran, President 2015-16

Some years ago, in the Kano plains of Kenya, a well-meaning development agency took on the task of improving water availability to a rural community. Committees were formed, meetings were held, and the local people were consulted. The main need the community identified was improved delivery of water for irrigation and livestock. A plan to meet this need was created, and the work was soon begun, exactly as the community representatives had requested.

Yet once construction began, it was met by immediate protest from groups of community women, who came to the site and physically blocked workers from building diversion channels. Upon further investigation, the agency realized that the water it was diverting for farming came from the only source, for dozens of families, of water for cooking, drinking, and washing. The entire project had to be scrapped.

Women-honoured-350x197

Tina Tchen assistant to Barack Obama & chief of staff to Michelle Obama thanks Rotary women for their humanitarian work  (Photo RI, Alyce Hensen)

Why? Because it had never occurred to a single member of the all-male team in charge to consult the local women. At every stage, it was assumed that the men knew the needs, spoke for the community, and were able to represent it. Clearly, this was far from the case. The women knew the needs of the community, and its resources, far better – but their opinion was never sought.

We have had women in Rotary for only the last quarter of our history, and it is no coincidence that those years have been by far our most productive. In 1995, only 1 in 20 Rotarians were women; today, that number has risen to 1 in 5. It is progress, but it is not enough. It is only common sense that if we want to represent our communities, we must reflect our communities, and if we want to serve our communities fully, we must be sure that our communities are fully represented in Rotary.

Rotary’s policy on gender equality is absolutely clear. Yet nearly one-fifth of our clubs still refuse to admit women, usually by claiming that they simply cannot find women who are qualified for membership. I would say that any Rotarian who makes this argument, or believes it, himself lacks the two most basic qualifications for Rotary membership: honesty and good sense.

A club that shuts out women shuts out much more than half the talent, half the ability, and half the connections it should have. It closes out the perspectives that are essential to serving families and communities effectively. It damages not only its own service but our entire organization, by reinforcing the stereotypes that limit us the most. It leads our partners to take us less seriously, and it makes all of Rotary less attractive to potential members, especially the young people who are so crucial to our future.

To tolerate discrimination against women is to doom our organization to irrelevance. We cannot pretend that we still live in Paul Harris’ time, nor would he ever want us to. For, as he said, “The story of Rotary will have to be written again and again.” Let us see to it that the story we write in Rotary is one of which he would be proud.

 

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3 Responses to To tolerate discrimination against women is to doom Rotary to irrelevance

  1. noronwe says:

    The following article is from Rotary News undated:

    Ignore women at your peril

    RI President KR Ravindran warns Rotarians at the International Assembly that discriminating against women will doom Rotary into irrelevance.
    K R Ravindran 1 Comment
    Article Views: 169

    “We have 1.23 million members, in more clubs than ever before. New members continue to join, and choose to stay; our numbers have grown by over 8,500 new members just since July 1,” said RI President K R Ravindran addressing the session on ‘Benefits of Membership’ at the International Assembly.

    While appreciating the progress Rotary has made in attracting women members who now form 20 per cent of Rotary membership, from five per cent in 1995, he pointed out that nearly one-fifth of the clubs today continue to exclude women, claiming that they simply cannot find women who are qualified for membership.
    “Any Rotarian who makes this argument, or believes it, lacks the two most basic qualifications for Rotary membership: honesty and good sense. Those who choose to live in a ¬Jurassic Park era should take a moment to remember what happened to the dinosaurs. They became extinct!”
    Equality for women is not just “a nice extra. It is absolutely essential to our service, to our future. If we don’t put it front and centre, we are dead in the water before we even begin.
    A club that shuts out women shuts out much more than half the talent, half the ability, and half the connections it should have. We have had women in Rotary for only the last quarter of our history, and it is no coincidence that those years have been by far our most productive.” Gender discrimination will make Rotary less attractive to potential members, especially the younger generation.
    Urging the incoming DGs to rise up to the challenges they may face in their year, Ravindran concluded with a quote of Archimedes: ‘Give me a lever that is long enough, and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I can move the world.’
    “The fulcrum is Rotary. And Rotarians are the lever. Together, we can move the world. And we will.”

  2. Pingback: Implementation of Gender Equity in Rotary since 1987: A story of mixed messages | 5550opinions

  3. Former Rotarian says:

    Article 15 “Interpretation”, page 171 in the RI Manual of Procedures, states where the words “may” and “should” are used the statement is not mandatory but instead, permissive. If the words, “IS”, “Are” and “Shall” are used, the statement is “mandatory”. Apply this rule of interpretation to RIB 4.070 and you will understand why 1/5 of all Rotary Clubs still exclude women. I wrote John Germ in the Spring of 2016 asking him if this is the Truth: Does Article 15 Interpretation negate RIB 4.070 and allow clubs to still exclude all women without breaking any RI Bylaws? He has not answered me. He did however answer questions 1 & 2
    (See comment questions 1-3) See article, Ignore Women at Your Peril. Only one comment exists, mine. Doesn’t it bother you John that you could not answer question #3?
    Now that you took office as the RI President, can you answer it now? You have my email address.

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