Relic of a bygone era - the Rotary club that still prohibits women

New Zealand's last Rotary club to exclude women is digging in its heels as criticism mounts against its "horrific" stance.

The president of the Rotary Club of Avonhead in Christchurch doesn't see any harm in maintaining the club's all-male membership. 

"There are 17 clubs in Christchurch, 16 of which women are welcome to join," John Ascroft told Newshub.

"It's just this particular group is an old, traditional club that likes things the way they are, and we don't see any harm."

Mr Ascroft defended the club's position as a literal boys' club, saying the Rotary is an "exclusive organisation" and 100 years ago, all Rotary clubs were men-only.

He confirmed there are no female members in the club, and said no women have ever joined. But the club has raised money for the Women's Refuge, he said.

Women know they are not welcome at the club, so they don't even try to join, employment lawyer and Rotarian Kathryn Dalziel told Fairfax. She said the stance is "deeply saddening."

Dr Jackie Blue (Human Rights Commission)
Dr Jackie Blue (Human Rights Commission)

They should rethink their policy very carefully or face extinction, Dr Jackie Blue, Equal Opportunities Officer for the Human Rights Commission said.

"Quite frankly, I was horrified that there are organisations that still have this particular stance in a country where diversity is celebrated and indeed it's necessary for the function of society."

Women were not allowed to be members of the Rotary from its inception in 1905 until the 1980s, and that was not without a bitter fight that went all the way to the US Supreme Court.

In 1976, a California club's membership was revoked by Rotary International after they allowed three women to join. A Supreme Court ruling in 1987 forced Rotary to stop explicitly preventing women from joining. 

Dr Blue says perhaps that needs to be tested here.

"It is a private organisation, but that doesn't necessarily make their policy stance the correct one," she said.

The New Zealand arm of Rotary is strides ahead of the international body in terms of women's involvement, Liz Courtney, Rotary's public image coordinator for New Zealand and the Pacific, told Fairfax.

A quarter of New Zealand Rotary members are women, compared to 17 percent internationally, she said.

"It is a secular organisation open to all persons regardless of race, colour, creed, religion, gender, or political preference," Rotary New Zealand says on its Facebook page.

Jan Logie (blog.greens.org.nz)
Jan Logie (blog.greens.org.nz)

Jan Logie, Green Party spokesperson for women, told Newshub the club is excluding women from business and networking opportunities.

"By excluding women on that side, they are just making us objects of charity, which is a bit awkward.

"I think they've just got their little group of mates and they are just wanting to hang on until they are no more.

"Everyone else has moved on. I think it's telling them something. It's time to move on. Catch up, guys."

Minister for Women Paula Bennett was out of range and not available to talk to Newshub, but sent a statement simply saying: "Hello Avonhead Rotary Club, this is 2017 calling. It's about time you picked up."

Newshub.

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