Women in Rotary

Imagine for a moment a life without running water. A life without clean water to wash your face, brush your teeth or take a shower.  Or imagine not having basic hygiene supplies.  Many countries face these challenges every day.  In fact, nearly 6 million children under the age of five die each year because of malnutrition, poor health care, and inadequate sanitation.  More than 775 million people over the age of 15 are illiterate.



Rotary International was founded by a Chicago attorney in 1905.  It started with the vision of one man — Paul Harris. He formed the club of male professionals with diverse backgrounds who could exchange idea, form meaningful, lifelong friendships, and give back to their communities.

The 1989 Council on Legislation vote to admit women into Rotary clubs worldwide remains a watershed moment in the history of Rotary.

Nadine Boone was one of the first women invited to be a member in 1989.  “It was not an easy transition,” said Boone.  “I was inducted in the club with 400 men and only a few women.”  Still, the number of women continued to grow and now makes up 40% of membership.  “Our local experience with women being active in Rotary is much different than in many countries around the world.  In 2010, of the 1.2 million Rotarians worldwide, only 200,000 were women,” said Susan Cobb, member of Rotary 6060.

This year the Rotary club celebrates 30 years of women.  Over the last 30 years, women have played a crucial role in the club.  You can say they brought a “women’s perspective.”  Meaning, several of their programs are focused on empowering women both physically and mentally.

Solving real problems takes real commitment and vision. For more than 110 years, Rotary’s people of action have used their passion, energy, and intelligence to take action on sustainable projects. From literacy and peace to water and health, we are always working to better our world, and we stay committed to the end.

Rotary is dedicated to six areas of focus to build international relationships, improve lives, and create a better world to support our peace efforts and end polio forever.  Most Rotary projects reflect one of Rotary International’s Areas of Focus:  literacy, economic development, peace and conflict resolution, health, supporting mothers and children, water and sanitation, or other local community needs.

Rotary International’s signature humanitarian project is the eradication of polio.  When this effort began in 1985, there were 350,000 new cases of polio occurring in 125 countries around the world . . . .that’s 1000 new cases of polio occurring every single day!  Today—millions of dollars later and millions of man hours later—there are just a handful of new polio cases reported each year in two remaining countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Rotary has partnered with the United Nations, World Health Organization, governments around the world, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to nearly eradicate this crippling disease.

Having women in Rotary provides a different perspective to world issues.  While providing clean water, sanitation and hygiene are one of the six core areas of focus for Rotary, a woman can identify areas within the core that will specifically empower and help women. For example, The St. Charles County Rotary Clubs partnered with Dignity Period to provide menstrual hygiene supplies to girls in Ethiopia and water and sanitation projects in Guatemala and the Dominican Republic.  “Girls would stay at home for the week of their cycle and not attend school.  Having a private toilet and proper supplies allows them to attend school, thus furthering their education,” Cobb said. Studies have shown that an additional year of secondary school can raise a women’s future earning potential by 15 to 25 percent.

Clean water and sanitation is a human right.  When people, especially children, have access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene, they lead healthier and more successful lives.  Rotary members integrate water, sanitation, and hygiene into educational projects.  When children learn about disease transmission and practice good hygiene, they miss less school.  And they can take those lessons home to their families, expanding the impact.  “In another effort to provide clean water and sanitation, Rotary 6060 helped support the funding and construction of simple latrines in Guatemala and the Dominican Republic,” said Cobb.

A few other other projects that local Rotary clubs were involved with include:

  • TREEHouse Project:  Rotarians donated supplies to TREEHouse, a therapeutic horsemanship program located in Wentzville.
  • Blanket Project:  Local Rotarians donated 75 blankets to benefit the clients of FISH, a non-profit organization that has been meeting the needs of low income families in our community for 60 years.
  • Volunteers in Medicine:  Volunteers in Medicine received laptops and printers from the Cottleville/Weldon Spring Rotary Club.
  • India Project:  Local Rotarians visited India and participated in several humanitarian projects, including distribution of school uniforms and supplies.

These are just a few of the projects that encompass the core areas for Rotary.  Many of them focusing on the empowerment and education of women internationally.

Rotary District 6060 includes 52 local Rotary Clubs in eastern Missouri from Hannibal to the Bootheel.  In District 6060 women account for nearly 40% of our members and serve in a number of leadership roles.  This year’s District Governor is Rose Cooper from the Downtown St. Louis Rotary and next year’s District Governor is Linda Puchbauer from Cape Girardeau West Rotary Club.  Nineteen of our 52 clubs currently have women Presidents.

While women may be changing the face of Rotary, all Rotarians, regardless of gender, live by the Rotary motto of Service Above Self.

The St. Charles Rotary Clubs are Cottleville/Weldon Spring Rotary, St. Charles Noonday, St. Charles Sunrise, O’Fallon, St. Peters, and Wentzville.  These clubs meet on different days of the weeks and guests are welcome to visit and learn more about Rotary International and the work of these local Rotary Clubs.  Information about the meeting locations, days, and times is available at www.rotary.org.  Sue Cobb, District 6060 Foundation Chair, can provide contact information for any St. Charles County Rotary Club.

Photos  by Sue Cobb & Christy Weber

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