'Men-only' Rotary club faces growing pressure

7:52 pm on 6 June 2017

Rotary leaders are putting pressure on a club in Christchurch after discovering it does not allow women to join.

Rotary International

Photo: AFP / DPA

The Avonhead Rotary Club is understood to be the only club out of the 267 nationwide that excludes women.

Noel Trevaskis, the director for New Zealand, Australia and South Pacific, said he was disappointed by the club's decision.

Mr Trevaskis said the international service organisation started taking female members in 1989, and the New Zealand branch has one of the highest rates of female membership globally.

"This to me is extremely disappointing as Rotary for me has always been inclusive and not exclusive.

"I can assure people that the Rotary leadership will be working with the rotary club of Avonhead in the future and offering them guidance, as we would with all Rotary clubs presenting challenges to ongoing community success," Mr Trevaskis said.

But Mr Trevaskis also said every club was autonomous and was entitled to make its own decisions - like the unfortunate one of the Avonhead Rotary Club.

Rotary regional public image co-ordinator Liz Courtney said the club did not have a rule in its constitution that excluded women membership.

"It's just a mood that they feel among their ageing population, who are all men. That's the policy that they've come up with. That's their feeling about it."

Ms Courtney said it would support the club changing its mood and feeling about having female members.

'Just because something is legal doesn't make it right'

The Human Rights Commission said private clubs could regulate their activities as they chose.

But a spokeswoman for the commission said, "just because something is legal doesn't make it right".

"We encourage all those involved to keep talking with people in their club community," the spokeswomen said.

Janice Hughes, Rotary's district governor for the lower South Island, said it would be unfortunate if Avonhead's policy distracted from the important work the organisation was doing.

She said in some clubs in her district, women made up 70 percent of the membership.

"To have public perception changed or sullied in some way by this particular issue is very very disappointing," she said.

Mr Hughes said she hoped the club would change its point of view "reasonably soon".

The Hastings Area Rotary Club also only has male members - but its president, Angus Thompson, said it was not its policy to exclude women from joining.

The Avonhead Rotary Club declined to be interviewed by RNZ. Its president, John Ashcroft, said it had no comment to make at this stage.

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