Implementation of Gender Equity in Rotary since 1987: A story of mixed messages

Editor’s Note: The following is a second excerpt from the 2013 paper “Women Still a Challenge for Rotary” by 14 Rotarians, representing 11 zones, 14 Districts and 13 countries.

The implementation of gender equity in clubs and across districts and zones has been uneven at best and outright resisted at its worst. This is evidenced by the following data:

  1. Over 6000 clubs are still exclusively male and a few are exclusively female. Exclusive gender clubs still account for approximately 20% of all Rotary clubs.
  2. Gender equity by Zone ranges from a high of 34% to a low of 4%.
  3. In 1995, eight women became the first District Governors in Rotary, yet the first woman R.I. Director was not elected until 2010, a stunning 15 year gap.
  4. Euity-in-Rotary-400x245A case was brought against a club in the USA by the District Governors alleging discriminatory practices by a single gender male club. After being investigated by Rotary International, the club was found to be in compliance even though it still had no female members. The decision undermined the District Governors and the claims to gender equity* Rotary purports to practice. It also revealed a serious gap in Rotary’s handling of such claims from a judicial perspective since to date no judicial appeal process is available to claimants on either side. This also sent the wrong message to the over 6000 single gender clubs.
  5. It would appear that although the U. S. Supreme Court’s decision was rendered, in 1987, Rotary developed no strategic plan or goal to ensure gender equity was being implemented. The current strategic plan makes no reference to women only diversity by gender, and other factors. The recruitment of women is neither visible nor promoted.** Further, clubs and districts are not required to report on their equity initiatives.
  6. Rotary appears to lack transparency in reporting progress towards its gender equity goals.
  7. Yet there can be no doubt about women’s interest in joining Rotary. Rotary’s decline in membership, particularly in North America, other English speaking countries and the European Union has been saved by its increase in female members. Had females not been admitted the decline would have been twice what it is today.


The revelation of these anomalies, by LinkedIn participants, has Rotary International charged with, at best, indifference to the issue of gender equity and at worst outright denial of discrimination against female membership. Anecdotal stories of actual discrimination were shared by many women and can be found scattered among the over 1800 posts.


* -This source is no longer available.

** Current Rotary President,  K. R. Ravindran (Ravi)’s May message is the first forceful call for more women in Rotary by the top echelon of Rotary’s leadership. See:

In addition in 2015-16 Regional Membership Plans for each zone now have a specific statement regarding an increase in “gender diversity”; as an example if you are a Rotarian Go to My Rotary at and search under Regional Membership Plans and look up the one for your Zone.




About John Borst

John Borst’s career in education spans the years 1960 to 1996. During those 36 years, he spent an equal amount of time working int he English language, Public and Catholic school boards. Borst taught in both elementary and high school environments. Positions of responsibilities held included department head in Geography, curriculum coordinator of Social and Environmental Studies, Principal, Education Officer with the Ministry of Education, Superintendent of Schools, and Superintendent of Student Services. Borst retired in 1996 as Director of Education for the legacy Dryden Board of Education. During this time, Borst has lived in the Ontario communities of Brampton, Toronto, Newmarket, Thunder Bay, Aurora and Dryden. Currently, Borst splits his time between Dryden and Toronto. Since retirement, Borst has served as a Supervisory Officer with a remote School Authority; been a freelance writer of articles on education in particular for Education Today, the magazine of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association (OPSBA); founded and edited from 2006 - 2010 the Education blog Tomorrow’s Trust: A Review of Catholic Education; and from 2003-2010 was a trustee of the Northwest Catholic District School Board.
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2 Responses to Implementation of Gender Equity in Rotary since 1987: A story of mixed messages

  1. Andrea Coble says:

    RI President John Germ wrote me in the spring of 2016 and was only able to answer questions 1 & 2 ….but unfortunately #3 he would not address. See Rotary Online News Article: “Ignore Women at Your Peril”. Read the only comment left where 3 questions are posted.

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