Rotary International, D3830; Distinguished Peace Fellow 2012 conferred by WAVES For Peace,
Why The Topic?
The topic assigned to me by the convenor and producer of this evening’s event, CP Grace Rallos of the Rotary Club of Makati Essensa, is “Gender Reconciliation as Path to Diversity”.
Grace cites several reasons why she deems this topic very important for this occasion. Firstly, this year marks the 25th year since women were first officially admitted into Rotary. Our gathering, therefore, this evening is one way of celebrating this historic milestone in the development of Rotary.
Secondly, as an active advocate of social reforms & human rights, Grace believes that Gender Reconciliation is one of the advocacies that Rotary can carry out in the communities where Rotarians operate. She observes that Gender Discrimination is still quite prevalent in the world, particularly in the countries of Africa and other parts of the so-called developing world, and, even in some developed countries like Japan, the UK and the USA.
Thirdly, Grace suggests that efforts for such an advocacy will, of course, have to start within Rotary itself. She observes that certain Rotary clubs still opt to remain exclusively single gender, despite official Rotary legislation and policy to the contrary. She believes that diversity and gender equality or gender mix will improve Rotary’s functioning at the club level and at the district level. So, she suggests that this gathering could be an opportunity to offer some take-home ideas regarding this all-important topic.
Diversity, Tolerance, And Fellowship In Rotary
As most of us Rotarians know, Diversity is one of the five core values of Rotary – along with Service, Integrity, Fellowship, and Leadership. From my early years in Rotary, one little vignette about our founder, Paul Harris, stands out in my memory. When he was asked by journalists to describe in three words the secret of Rotary’s phenomenal growth and its growing attractiveness among professionals and businessmen, Paul Harris replied without any hesitation: “Three words – Tolerance, tolerance, tolerance.”
The counterpart of Tolerance is Diversity. What we are usually challenged to tolerate is that which is different or diverse from us; that which is initially unfamiliar and, therefore, causes in us, at least at the beginning, some level of discomfort and even rejection. Tolerance is the virtue that helps us keep an open mind, keeps us patient, and, most of all, grants the benefit of the doubt to that which is different or diverse from us.
The development of Tolerance is helped along by the Rotary practice of Fellowship. Aside from serious and business-like meetings, Rotary encourages acquaintanceships and informal get-togethers as often as possible among Rotarians who come from diverse professions and businesses. These occasions become opportunities for discovering the uniqueness of each individual member and learning how to embrace the individual in his or her entirety – both his or her strengths and weaknesses as well as assets and liabilities. Beyond merely tolerating, one learns to accept and embrace and appreciate. The regular get-togethers become, for every Rotarian, a continuing education in human relations from week to week.
Rotary also promotes international understanding and goodwill. Rotary looks at a world of diversity – diverse cultures, religions, ethnic backgrounds, languages, races, social/economic, and political systems, ideologies, and so on – and, seeing this diversity, extends both arms to embrace it.
This is why Rotary clubs can be found in practically all the major regions of the world and Rotarians come in all shades of color and race. We are a polyglot organization but we have no problem agreeing on a lingua franca. We encourage visits to each other’s country, we rotate important gatherings among different countries, zones, and regions. We were among the first international institutions to try to understand, appreciate, and put to full use the magic of the Internet, just so that we could speed up, widen, and enhance our communication with one another.
Diversity, diversity, diversity; tolerance, tolerance, tolerance; fellowship, fellowship, fellowship!
This has become a mantra for many Rotarians who look forward to their regular Rotary meeting each week.
This mindset has been at the heart of Rotary as early as the time of Paul Harris, our founder, and, it has perdured and grown stronger with the years.
Truly, it is fair to say that Rotary does not only tolerate diversity; it encourages it. Rotary does not only respect diversity; it treasures it.
Rotary & The Prejudice Against Women Members
And yet, it has not always been that easy nor ideal. Even Rotary was not immune to an unfortunate form of prejudice and bias that enveloped most of the human world for so long. This is the evil of gender discrimination that infected even many of the great institutions of human society in practically all countries of the world – the Philippines not exempted.
Because of gender discrimination, not only did Rotary not open the doors of membership to women in its first 8 decades of existence; it, in fact, barred them; and when a handful of them dared enter, Rotary came down hard on them. In 1978, the Rotary Club of Duarte, California, USA, invited three women to become members. The RI Board withdrew the charter of that club for violation of the RI constitution. The club brought suit against RI, claiming a violation of a state civil rights law that prevents discrimination of any form in business establishments or public accommodations.
The women’s struggle took all of one decade. The appeals court and the California Supreme Court supported the Duarte position that Rotary could not remove the club’s charter merely for inducting women into the club. The United States Supreme Court finally upheld the California court indicating that Rotary clubs do have a “business purpose” and are in some ways public-type organizations. This judicial decision in 1987 allowed women to become Rotarians in any jurisdiction having similar “public accommodation” statutes.
Abiding by the Supreme Court decision, RI amended its constitution at the 1989 Council on Legislation with a vote to eliminate the “male only” provision for all of Rotary. Since that time, women have become leaders of clubs and districts throughout the world.
Rotary’s Official Position On Diversity
The current official statement on Rotary and Diversity is contained in the RI Code of Policies, which clearly states that:
“Rotary International recognizes the value of diversity within individual clubs. Rotary encourages clubs to assess those in their communities who are eligible for membership… and to endeavor to include the appropriate range of individuals in their clubs. A club that reflects its community with regard to professional and business classification, gender, age, religion, and ethnicity is a club with the key to its future.”
Thus, the model for a modern and effective Rotary club has forever changed.
Just as an example, on the outskirts of Amsterdam, 21 people gather at De Houten Vier restaurant each week. The group includes members of Dutch, Moroccan, Surinamese, and Turkish descent. The 14 men and seven women range in age from 28 to 69. They come from various professional backgrounds: there are designers, hotel managers, and academics as well as lawyers and accountants.
Andro Bottse, of Surinamese descent, is its president and he declares that the club’s diversity helps it reach out to the community. He said, “It helps that our networks extend to all levels of the community we serve, including grassroots organizations, businesses, and municipalities.”
In the Philippines, in all the 10 Rotary districts, we see clubs of a similar profile. They are vibrant, they are effectively organized, they attract men and women of distinguished credentials, they are engaged in meaningful projects, and they confidently reach out to their community and their fellow Rotarians throughout the world.
Clubs That Embrace Diversity More Fully
Clubs that fully and enthusiastically embrace the value of Diversity are usually able to build their membership base more effectively than other clubs. They typically look for new and diverse service ideas, adopting new skills and networking opportunities that they find in the community. They embrace best practices in community engagement and understanding and avoid the risks of “group think” or blind copycat imitation of projects and activities. Their sense of viability and relevance is thus strengthened. The net outcome is improved performance and delivery that all the club members appreciate and enjoy.
A number of districts and clubs in various parts of the Rotary world are now developing what they call a “Diversity Policy”. Instead of leaving the development of this value to chance, they have taken it upon themselves to be more purposeful about the development of Diversity as a value among their members.
Under the Diversity Policy, they 1) set clear goals and targets for increasing diversity; 2) identify clear strategies to increase diversity; 3) allocate resources to increasing diversity; 4) appoint someone to be accountable for the process; 5) track their progress on a regular basis; and 6) provide a welcoming and supportive environment for new members.
Diversity Is More Than Just Gender Equality; It Is Recognition Of Woman Power
These are also the clubs that are finding out from experience that involving women in Rotary is a lot more than simply a matter of gender equality. The increasing realization is that increased gender diversity, particularly in Rotary’s senior positions, is more likely to have far more numerous benefits than disadvantages.
For one thing, women represent a huge, under-utilized sector of the community from which to draw volunteers.
For another, women add a differing and complementing perspective to that of men, allowing for more innovative ideas to develop. Women have a deeper and more intimate knowledge of the needs and goals of other women volunteers, placing them in a unique position to attract women to the organisation, as well as retain them. And the presence of women in senior positions also sends a strong message to current and future women volunteers that women are valued by Rotary and helps dispel any myths that suggest otherwise.
The overall outcome has been a marked improvement in the overall performance of Rotary, in both quantity and quality – of members recruited as well as projects carried out and delivered.
This should not be surprising at all, for even in the private business sector, a link is increasingly being drawn between Gender Diversity in senior positions in a company and organizational Performance. Studies such as those done in the UK, Finland, Canada, and the USA have found and linked a higher proportion of women in top management positions with improved financial performance.
Data of the financial performance of 353 companies between 1996 and 2000 showed that companies with the highest representation of women in senior management positions had a 35% higher Return on Equity and a 34% higher Total Return to Shareholders than companies with the lowest levels of representation.
In other words, companies with higher levels of gender diversity usually outperform their competitors and net return on investment improves by more than a third when top management teams have a gender balance of both men and women.
Stubborn Single-Gender Rotary Clubs
But why do we still see some clubs stubbornly clinging to their macho culture and refusing to admit women into their ranks? Ironically, we also see some all-women clubs doing the same thing.
These clubs need to be reminded that they are members of Rotary International, not private members’ clubs.
Against their stubborn mindset and practice, the provisions of the RI By-laws, Article 4.070 leave no room for any misunderstanding:
“Limitations on Membership states that …no club, regardless of the date of its admission to membership in RI, may by provisions in its constitution or otherwise, limit membership in the club on the basis of gender, race, colour, creed, national origin, or sexual orientation or impose any condition of membership not specifically prescribed by the RI constitution or bylaws. Any provision in any club constitution or any condition otherwise imposed in conflict with this section of the bylaws is null, void, and without effect.”
Similarly, the Rotary Code of Policies 4.040 states that:
“All Rotary clubs are encouraged to have membership consisting of both men and women. Governors are encouraged to promote dual-gender membership in all clubs in their districts and, where clubs that have single-gender membership remain, should promote the establishment of new dual-gender clubs in the locality of the existing single-gender clubs.”
Gender Equality Remains A Struggle In The Philippines
At this point, let me invite you to lift a page from Philippine history on the topic that we are now discussing.
Some 90 years ago, a bright young Filipina became the first woman to become an assistant attorney general, the first to become a judge, and the first to become a justice of the Court of Appeals. How she got there took a lot from her and her tolerant father. They had to brave the culture shock that she caused her all-male schoolmates at the Escuela De Derecho, or the School of Law, of Manila in 1913, when she decided to take up law, which no woman before had dared to do.
In time, many of her male classmates, which included the likes of Manuel Moran and Claro M. Recto, moved quickly up the career ladder of our justice system. But she was left behind, even if she was no less of a performer and achiever in school. It took her twice or thrice the time and effort to gain recognition and promotion that she deserved.
At age 26, this young Filipina woman lawyer delivered a speech in Spanish before the Philippine Legislative Assembly, where she argued that (and I quote):
“The sexual differences that distinguish and separate us from men are not enough to justify the irritating inequality of our rights. Men and women make up the totality of the human race, and our humanity is the essence of all our rights.”
She then addressed the links between human rights and gender, declaring:
“Gender can influence individual preferences and emotive inclinations, but it does not change the qualities of the individual. And for this reason, neither should it change the rights of the individual. Given the fundamental laws and derivatives before the private and juridical order, both sexes should be equal.”
The young Filipina lawyer that courageously delivered that speech before the Philippine Legislative Assembly in 1918 was none other than the late Justice Natividad Almeda-Lopez, whose 120th birthday anniversary we celebrated just a few weeks ago. (By the way, despite her brilliant and eloquent exposition, it wasn’t until 1937 that Filipino women won the right to vote.)
Fifty years after the retirement of the first woman judge and first ever woman justice in the person of Justice Natividad Almeda-Lopez, the Philippines has just witnessed the appointment of the first ever woman chief justice in the person of Maria Lourdes Sereno.
Just as the young Natividad Almeda was put through the crucible of gender bias before she could win the recognition she richly deserved – nay, perhaps more than was actually accorded her – we now see Lourdes Sereno being made to go through “the hoops”, as it were by her own peers in the highest court of the land; an experience sadly similar to what Justice Natividad Almeda-Lopez had to go through.
Indeed, the roots and forces of human prejudice can be quite deep and stubborn. But, from the pages of Rotary’s history, we are heartened by many encouraging signs of positive change.
Against decades-old bias and prejudice, we are witnessing a most welcome transformation. Working side by side for Rotary’s cause are men and women of the most diverse backgrounds serving and leading together peacefully and successfully. What a change!
We must all take part in sustaining this change. The value of Diversity, the virtue of Tolerance, and the practice of genuine and regular Fellowship are Rotary’s tried-and-tested formula that will sustain such change.
In the 33 years that I have been a Rotarian, I can say that the formula has worked for me. I hope it works for you, too.
Thank you for your kind attention and Peace be with you!
PDG Jimmy A. Cura delivered this speech in “Journey To Peace”, October 2, 2012, 5 projects in one date by WAVES For Peace 3rd Year Anniversary: Women Power Showcase; Convergence of Global Minds; 3rd Peace Fellows Awards; Launch of WAVES For Peace Institute; International Peace Fellowship. Project partner: Rotary Club of Makati Essensa, D3830,
Jimmy A. Cura’s Bio: