On February 23, 1905, Paul Harris, a Chicago attorney, invited some of his buddies - professionals of diverse backgrounds - to exchange ideas, form meaningful, lifelong friendships, and give back to their communities.
That meeting transitioned into a Rotary club and the world’s first service organization. Today, there are about 1.2 million Rotarians worldwide making Rotary the biggest service organization by membership in the world.
However, for 84 years, Rotary was a male-only affair! Women were not invited to join until 1989. For the past 30 years, women have made a significant contribution in Rotary, contributing immensely to the development of our country. There is a rumour that Rotary clubs which are run by women actually do much better than those with male presidents or where there is male dominance.
As we celebrate yet another International Women’s day, it should not be obvious that we celebrate the role women play in Rotary, an organization they only joined long after the NRA had captured power in Kampala.
Today, our Rotary District for Uganda and Tanzania is led by a woman, District Governor Sharmila Bhatt and the District Governor Nominee (leader for 2020/2021) is a woman in Rosette Nabbumba. Sharmila is the first woman governor in our district as it is today.
However, many women have served as presidents, country chairs, assistant governors and in many such roles. Some of them have become major donors (contributed over $10,000 to Rotary).
One of Rotary’s biggest contribution in the world has been the elimination of polio in most countries. Rotarians contribute money everyday to ensure that there is less burden of polio and other killer diseases.
Once women were allowed into Rotary, there has not been a limit on what they can do and they have done an exceptional job. Looking at all these achievements by women yet there is a lot they sacrifice to be part of Rotary.
The Rotary Club of Kampala Naalya where I currently serve as president, decided to celebrate the role women play in the development of our country by organizing the annual Women in Rotary dinner.
It started four years ago in a little hotel in Kampala and has now grown into an event attended by approximately 450 people including non-Rotarians. This year, we have been very grateful because Her Royal Highness the Nnabagereka agreed to be our guest of honor.
Carol Musyoka, a Kenyan lawyer, entrepreneur, board director of many corporate bodies and one of the most brilliant speakers in the region, will specially fly in to give a keynote address before a panel of eminent women take to the floor to discuss issues of women leadership.
District Governor Sharmila and Nnabagereka will also be speaking. Katikkiro Charles Peter Mayiga, Rotary International trustees and many business leaders have confirmed their attendance.
In Kenya and Tanzania, they have too started organizing Women in Rotary events to honor the women for being inspirational and making a difference in society. The event has since moved away from a little hotel to a five-star hotel. It is a celebration but also proceeds are used to do good in the community.
It is important to remember that women face many challenges when it comes to leadership. Some of them have to first ask for permission from their spouses before they accept to join Rotary. If the husband refuses, the woman doesn’t join. If a woman wants to attend a Rotary conference in Dar es Salaam or Hamburg, they have to get two visas — one from home and another from the embassy.
The one from home is issued by the husband and can be withdrawn at any time. I have been at conferences with women where visas issued by the husband are revoked midway through the function.
If the man refuses to grant a visa, the woman most likely stays home. Also motherhood sometimes affects women as they must rush back home after work to look after children and tuck them in bed instead of joining a club to devise ways of doing good in the community and network for personal growth.
Most men don’t have those challenges. That is why we celebrate women by organizing an event that speaks to them and offers them an opportunity to network. I hope that men won’t deny their wives visas to join us at the Kampala Serena this Saturday.
The writer is a communication and visibility consultant.