by John Borst

At District 5550’s recent conference titled “Infinite Possibilities,” it was anything but ‘infinite possibilities’ for women in Rotary.


An opportunity presented itself to discuss with an internationally renowned woman the issue of a woman as president anytime soon. Incredulously the possibility elicited the response that none of the women who are currently qualified “aren’t ready yet”.

I was following up on a discussion over the word ‘best” qualified in the Rotary constitution when it came to choosing the next Rotary president from the candidates who had put their names forward.

The PDG expressed her opinion that to remove such a word insulted her. This has always puzzled me, because in my opinion it insults both men and women. Of course a team of human beings is always going to try to choose the best, for any position at any level.

But Rotary makes it worse because it never defines what “best” means. Hence the opinion of everyone one of us is left free to say as the PDG did that each of the qualified female candidates is “not ready yet”. And my retort is, “What are your standards?” When will they be ready? Will they ever be ready in your eyes? The answer is likely “No.” goes through my head.

But then the PDG also admitted that she also believes that our current Prime Minister, at 43 is not ready yet.  Am I surprised, of course not! At least her thinking is consistent with a certain type of conservatism.

It is a conservativism that distrusts change. It is a conservativism that trusts that only the wealthy elite businessman and woman have the right to govern. It is a conservatism who distrusts common men and women to know what they are doing when they choose a leader in an election.

It is built into our political systems. In the USA, the Electoral College is the best example of the landed aristocracy’s distrust of the other male land owners who had the vote.  In those parliamentary systems built on the British model it is where the appointed Senates mirror the House of Lords.

So too in our age, there is a feminism which reflects the tradition, that only elites can be trusted with leadership of an organization.  This feminist model wants to be seen as “good as the man” so defers to the men to choose them as a validation of their equality.

Here is a typical expression of a male traditionalist “I would hope that when (a woman) is nominated she will in fact be the best choice and not simply the first female choice.”  But how are we, when in a closed system, ever going to know?  No matter how best the woman is there will always be those men and women who will claim “Oh, she was just chosen because she is a woman!”  It is an inescapable position.

History, however, repeatedly demonstrates that equality is first and foremost disruptive. Whether born of race, gender, or culture equality demands more than waiting for the elites to wake up to its demands. The Suffragettes, Black Rights movement in the USA, or Gay Rights are three historical movements which illustrate the disruptive nature of equality demands and their persistance both during and after such movements.

Rotary should be no different when it comes to demands for equality, but its desire for “peace, order and good governance”, to borrow from Canada’s founding principles, has caused it to create structures which avoid the messiness of democracy and the disruptive nature of equality.

They are the principles which have led Rotary to move away from elections and campaigning to committees selecting leaders with the façade of an election confirming the nomination.

They are the principles which the PDG wants to keep in place when she says the woman who even though they qualify to be president still “Aren’t ready yet”.

If Rotary really wants to grow and be relevant to the 21st century , it needs to recognize that it must risk the disruptive nature of women’s demands for full equality including leadership at the presidential level; it must recognize that as it stands now the system is unjust in the hegemony  it still accords men in the organization and finally it is time for Rotary to shed its drab grey suit of constrained practices and embrace the dynamic of a multi-colored cloak of equality for all members.