Updated: Oct 6, 2022
Dr Kay Danes OAM
International Human Rights Law Advocate
Past-President of the Rotary Eclub of Global Trekkers (D7690)
When our District Governor, Chris Justice, asked me to speak on the topic ‘Rotary Women’ I felt honoured because I am proud to serve in an organisation that embraces the knowledge that women can change the world. And since, the Council on Legislation so wisely voted in 1989 to admit women into Rotary clubs worldwide, Rotary women have been active champions of change and continue to inspire and improve people’s lives through innovative and impactful projects in all of Rotary’s seven areas of focus.
Reflecting on our Rotary Women in history, eight Rotary women became district governors in July 1995.
A decade later, the first Rotary woman was appointed as trustee of The Rotary Foundation.
Then in 2008, the first Rotary woman was elected to the RI Board of Directors.
In 2012, the first Rotary woman was elected as RI treasurer.
The following year, 2013, the first Rotary woman served as RI vice president. And six years later, in 2019, the first Rotary woman was elected to serve as vice-chair of The Rotary Foundation. And in April-June of that same year, was appointed as Chair of the Foundation, the first Rotary woman appointed to this role.
As an innovative and diverse organisation, Rotary is once again on the cusp of making history. Jennifer E. Jones is set to become RI’s president for 2022-23, a ground-breaking appointment that will make her the first Rotary woman to hold office in Rotary’s 115-year history.
Rotary Women can be immensely proud. Our timeline highlights historic milestones and many senior leadership firsts that have helped build greater diversity and inclusion in Rotary.
Today, there are 277,000 Rotary women who are all making positive change in communities they serve.
In our District 7690, Rotary Women are deeply entrenched in service projects that support disease prevention and treatment, peace and conflict resolution, clean water and sanitation, maternal and child health, basic education and literacy, economic and community development. Rotary women are advancing ecological sustainability between communities and the environment.
In my own Club—the Rotary Eclub of Global Trekkers, our Rotary women are writing Global Grants to facilitate pediatric heart surgeries in the Philippines, creating strategies to house and educate orphaned child victims of abuse. Like many of our sisters in RI throughout the world, our Rotary women are dedicated, courageous and iconic in the lives of those they selflessly serve. To me, they epitomize the motto of Rotary ‘Service Above Self’.
Rotary women are driven by passion, intelligence and the belief that when people of all walks of life unite and engage in meaningful dialogue, minds open to the possibilities of building goodwill and inspiring change.
And so, as we move forward into the next Rotary year, themed “Imagine Rotary” let us imagine greatly all the good we can do, as people of action.
Let us Imagine Rotary opening opportunities in societies that refuse to end the oppression of women and girls, to allow them to embrace concepts around equal access to health services, the right to choose if, when, and who women and girls marry, and to decide if they want to have children and if so, how many, when and with who. Let us Imagine Rotary creating laws and justice for women and girls to have the right to own property, to vote in elections, to drive a car, or go outside without a male chaperone, and other basic human rights like the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the right to live with dignity and respect.
For decades I have worked to promote human rights and social justice globally and in my own community. And more recently, since May 2021, I worked day and night coordinating the evacuation of over 3,500 at-risk Afghans from Afghanistan. Most of those were at-risk women and girls. Many had either endured themselves, or witnessed others endure brutal sexual assaults, violent and unlawful killing, disfigurement, displacement, and the enforcement of women and girls into sexual slavery under the guise of marriage, which, according to Article 27 of the Geneva Convention, is itself both a war crime and a crime against humanity.
As a former hostage in a communist state, I witnessed torture, cruel and inhumane treatment and experienced it first-hand. Indeed, my life now has a very strong focus on promoting equality and justice because of those personal lived experiences. I believe all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, as the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world. These are principles that I truly believe are worth espousing because I have seen first-hand the many advantages that can be accorded to communities when people at the grassroots level engage human rights, especially the rights of women and girls.
Gender and peace are closely linked: peace is vital to promote gender equality, while gender inequality can undermine peace and drive conflict and violence. Studies show that strengthening gender equality and women’s human rights is both a human rights obligation but also key for cultivating peace from the home to the world. Increasing women’s participation in an economy is good for that economy. When women receive better education, healthcare, and job opportunities, they thrive, and their communities thrive. Children raised in gender-equal environments do better than those raised with inequality. Investing in gender parity is, therefore, a sustainable and highly effective way to reduce poverty and promote human rights and peace.
To that end, I implore all Rotary Women and indeed, all Rotarians, to not only Imagine Rotary making a difference to women and girls in countries, like Afghanistan, who are governed by people who continue to shamelessly pay lip service to the value of women and girls, but I encourage you to act, by creating service programs that will empower more and more people to participate in the global peace process, and especially to engage those who engage in any form of harm to women and girls, or any form of discrimination against them.
In concluding, I would like to end with a quote from our Rotary President-elect Jennifer Jones, whose words call all Rotarians to action: “When you Imagine Rotary, dream big and harness your connections and the power of Rotary will turn those dreams into reality. Imagine Rotary and the possibilities in the change we can make to transform the world. Imagine that the only limit to our impact is the barrier of our imagination.”
Live Long and Prosper!