I have to admit that all through my Rotary career I have really struggled to come to terms with the concept that is Inner Wheel and it is unlikely that I ever will.
Having joined Rotary ‘post men-only’ and at the point where females were now being [mostly] welcomed into the organisation with open arms I could never really see the point for what many others viewed as ‘Ladies Rotary’. And even now I have to be honest and say I still don’t get where Inner Wheel sits in a modern society any more than those all-male Rotary clubs that refuse to admit ‘lady members’.
Now I realise that Inner Wheel is neither affiliated nor under the auspices of Rotary International. But any web-search for the background to Inner Wheel will undoubtedly mention Rotary within the first couple of paragraphs, therefore it seems they will remain inextricably linked by way of their history.
Time-travelling back to the 15th November 1923 it was the meeting of a group of Rotarians’ wives in the Deansgate Turkish Baths (!!!) which effectively catalysed the organisation that would grow to become known as Inner Wheel.
As time has progressed and the Inner Wheel rolled on for the last 90 years, it has moved on to become an international organisation that is active in over 100 countries and attracting 100,000 members throughout its 3,900 clubs. In the RotaryGBI territory these figures are transposed to read 19,000 members over 730 clubs throughout the 29 Districts.
With these figures, there is no doubt that Inner Wheel is a membership organisation that is worth paying attention to in the sense that they have a large number of members who are actually all surely potential Rotarians are they not?
Despite what we may be told, my feeling is that back in 1923 Inner Wheel was set up by Rotarians’ wives on the basis that if their husbands had their own Club then so should they – and at the time…rightly so as times were different then. They set up their organisation with very similar humanitarian objectives to those of Rotary and have continued to retain them ever since. However they have also remained tenuously linked through their terms and conditions to Rotary International. One only has to look at Inner Wheel’s logo to see the Rotary roundels acting as the wedding rings that hold this marriage together.
Today, according to their website Inner Wheel welcomes members who have a connection with other Inner Wheel members or those who have a connection with a Rotarian. What exactly ‘a connection’ is remains to be seen, but I’m sure somebody knows. But hold on wait for this – they also welcome other women who have similar ideals providing that the new prospect receives the club’s consent. Is that not the most antiquated-Rotarian phrase you have ever heard…in effect – we’ll let you in if you’re one of us and the rest of us approve!
Now, I’ve been unable to find any information on the actual membership number of Inner Wheel; but anecdotally RotaryBlogger has heard that similar to Rotary, they are also struggling to maintain their membership numbers.
I appreciate the excellent work that the many Wheelies will have done across their communities and I expect them to continue to do so. Therefore, before I say what I am about to I accept their charitable position across the globe and all the humantiarian support they have offered – and I’m absolutely not knocking any of that.
However, is there still a place in the world for a ‘sister’ organisation to Rotary when there is no reason for them not to join their brothers and become part of the Rotary community?
Looking at the facts, difficult as it may be for some of my female colleagues to see past the old, grey and affluent public perceptions and actually sign up to Rotary; I would say that it would nigh-on impossible to get them to complete the application form to become an Inner Wheeler. With no offence I simply cannot imagine any contemporary, modern business-woman with a desire to become a Wheely.
Only a few weeks ago guest blogger Nisha Kotecha wrote about her membership organisation considerations when she turned 30 and left Rotaract and at no time throughout her post did she give any inclination or indication that she would want to join Inner Wheel. Was it even in her radar…I doubt it!
The fact is that in this day and age of the Equalities Act where generations of women have fought for the democratic right to be treated as equals with their male-counterparts. It would seem that society is saying there should be no place in a modern society for men-only Rotary Clubs therefor equally there should be no place for a female-only equivalent of the organisation.
And don’t forget the ironic contradiction in the fact that so much work has been done to ensure equality across Rotary throughout these islands and the rest of the world. Yet Rotary allows its name be one of the contractual obligation in an ‘all-lady’ organisation. Surely this cannot sit easily or correctly in terms of the organisation’s commitment to equality and gender balance? Has anyone actually thought about it this way? Or does anyone even care?
I’m sure I have taken my life-in-my-hands in presenting this post – but at a time when RotaryGBI is looking to attract new members wouldn’t one positive option be working with other similar organisation rather than competing with them for the same potential new recruits. And surely the one we appear to have a link with and the organisation apparently closest to us would be the easiest? So the big question would be: On the basis ‘ladies’ are now welcome in Rotary – what is the point of retaining an organisation that is publicly perceived as being the female-wing of Rotary when women have now been welcome to join the organisation for decades?
An additional 20,000 new Rotarians would all-of-a-sudden halt any actual or perceived decline throughout the organisation in these islands and be a welcome addition to many Clubs who could certainly do with some new members.
So while many of us [RotaryBlogger.co.uk included] criticise male-only Rotary Clubs then surely we cannot sit back and condone a link with an organisation which is equally and even more overtly gender-imbalanced.