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The Other Half

For most of the 850,000 active Rotarians who joined the organization after January 1989, it's hard to imagine Rotary clubs without women. That was the year the Council on Legislation enacted the measure, advanced by current RI President Jonathan Majiyagbe, to allow Rotary clubs worldwide to admit members of both genders. Two years earlier, a U.S. Supreme Court decision cleared the way for women to join U.S. clubs.

Like the rest of society, Rotary was changing with the times. Was the change overdue? Few today would say it wasn't, but no more overdue than the overall movement toward gender equality that saw women advance into professions and positions of authority previously controlled by men. Once that happened, it was totally appropriate for women to be considered for membership in a vocationally classified organization like Rotary. Other major volunteer service organizations, such as Kiwanis International and Lions Clubs International, opened their ranks to women at about the same time.

But it's less important to rehash how and when women first became Rotarians than to examine their status today and reflect on their contributions and accomplishments.

"I believe that the addition of women represents the single greatest force for Rotary growth since the chartering of the first international club in Winnipeg, Canada, in 1912," says Samuel L. Greene, who will chair RI's 2004-05 Membership Development and Retention Committee. "Not only have women added to our membership growth, but they've helped inject new life into Rotary clubs through their ideas and enthusiasm."

Greene's vice chair for next year, Alana Bergh, a past governor of District 5010 (Alaska, USA; Yukon Territory, Canada; and Eastern Russia) says that admitting women was Rotary's way of "recognizing that women today make up a major part of the business and professional circles in most communities."

Female Rotarians now number almost 140,000, about 12 percent of the total membership. "Wouldn't it be wonderful," asks Greene, "if each of those 140,000 Rotarians brought in one other woman as a member? That would bring the total to 280,000, and all they have to do to accomplish that is ask someone to join."

In 1995, eight U.S. women reached a milestone when they assumed the office of district governor. By unofficial count, 48 of this year's class of district governors-elect are women, representing 16 countries.

Rotary's senior leaders are unequivocal in encouraging clubs to aggressively recruit qualified women and are leading by example as they consider candidates for committee appointments and other positions at the international level. Above all, they agree, women must have the opportunity to succeed based on their qualifications.

"I try to look at who is the best person for the job, not at the gender," says RI President-elect Glenn E. Estess Sr., who appointed Bergh to the vice chair's slot on the membership committee, positioning her to chair the panel in 2005-06. "I don't think women want to be selected or judged on the basis of gender, but rather on their qualifications."

Other Articles
From the Editor
A Message from RI Pres. Majiyagbe
Greetings from Osaka
Celebrating Rotary
The Other Half
Rotary World Press
History of RI District 3790
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