About Zonta International
Founded in 1919, Zonta International is a leading global organization of professionals empowering women through service and advocacy. With more than 30,000 members belonging to more than 1,200 Zonta Clubs in 67 countries and geographic areas, Zontians all over the world volunteer their time, talents and support to local and international service projects, as well as scholarship programs aimed at fulfilling Zonta’s mission and objectives.
– To improve the legal, political, economic, educational, health and professional status of women at the global and local level through service and advocacy
– To work for the advancement of understanding, goodwill and peace through a world fellowship of members.
– To promote justice and universal respect for human rights and fondamental freedoms.
– To be united internationally to foster high ethical standards, to implement service programs, and to provide mutual support and fellowship for memebers who serve their communities, their nations and the world.
Zonta International, its districts and its clubs are nonsectarian and nonpartisan.
Zonta International History
By march of 1919, five women organized to achieve this mission and chartered the first Zonta club in Buffalo, New York, USA. Membership grew rapidly. A confederation of nine Zonta clubs formed with 600 members. These members were among the first generation of college-educated women, the first generation of North American women to vote, and a part of the growing legion of women entering the workforce.
On 8 November 1919, the Confederation drafted and adopted Bylaws and a Constitution, and selected the name Zhonta – a word meaning honest and trustworthy, derived from the Lakhota (Teton Dakota) language of the Native-American Sioux peoples. Later changed to Zonta, the word’s meaning was incorporated into the Zonta Emblem, which was officially authorized, along with the Zonta colors of mahogany and gold, at the first executive session of the Confederation’s officers in 1920.
The Confederation became Zonta International upon organizing the first European club, the Zonta Club of Vienna, Austria in 1930. In September of that year, Zonta International was incorporated in the State of Illinois, USA.
Growing: While Zonta shared a common vision with hundreds of women’s clubs in the first part of the 20th century – encouraging women’s teamwork, courage, risk-taking, and self-reliance – it also represented something of a departure.
Zonta’s strict business and classification system required its members to be employed at least 50 percent of the time at executive or decision-making levels. In addition, each club was allowed just one member per business classification, a requirement that ensured clubs could offer their communities and the world optimum service, backed by a broad range of understanding and insight. Early members were keenly aware of the challenges of carving a place for themselves in what was still a predominantly male domain. Many Zonta Clubs actively pursued gender equity in employment opportunities.
With membership multiplying Zonta started stretching its service wings, supporting relief efforts around the world. In 1923, Zonta contributed financially to the care of 115,000 orphan children in Turkey. As technology made the world a smaller place and Zonta clubs sprang up around the globe, International Service projects, initially dedicated to world peace and women’s role in attaining it, increased. Action for World Peace expressed support for the fledgling United Nations (UN) and was adopted at the 1946 Convention.
Zonta International continues to promote justice and universal respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms through the UN and other non-governmental organizations, improving the lives of millions of women. Read More about our International Service History and our current International Service Projects.
In 1928, girls equal education became an organizational priority with the adoption of the Vocational Education for Girls Project, Zonta’s first US service program. The project asked Zontians to provide information on their job descriptions, work conditions, compensation, and training requirements, for a centralized job bank available to high school libraries, universities and colleges.
In 1938, Zonta launched the Amelia Earhart Fellowship Program, commemorating groundbreaking aviator and Zontian Amelia Earhart. Then Zonta President Ellen Parks, remembered, “At that time few women considered a career in aerospace engineering, yet not one voice of doubt was raised as to the success of such a scholarship.” Read More about Amelia Earhart.
During the 1930s, Zonta grew to 130 clubs in six countries spanning three continents, and continued to push for gender equity in employment. After the United States passed the “Married Persons Law,” which predominantly affected wives by prohibiting more than one family member from working for the government, Zonta adopted a resolution to demand repeal of the law. And in 1944, delegates to the Zonta International Convention endorsed the elimination of gender discrimination in job opportunities and rates of pay. The organization also expressed support for women’s reserves to the military service. Zonta Clubs around the globe continue to advocate for equal rights.
Today, Zonta International continues to be on the front lines of the fight for women’s equal rights through local and global projects that promote economic self-sufficiency, political equality, access to education and health, and the prevention of violence against women. Each year, Zontians dedicate hundreds of thousands of volunteer hours and millions of dollars.
Zonta Clubs in Europe
The Non-districted Period 1930 – 1962
ZONTA International, founded 1919 in United States, first arrives in Europe with the founding of the Clubs in Vienna, Austria, in 1930 and in Hamburg, Germany, 1931. In 1935 the organization reaches Scandinavia with founding Stockholm, Sweden. The expansion stagnated during World War II, with only private personal contacts remaining between club members. After the war ZONTA grew rapidly: Bern, Switzerland (1948), London, UK,(1949) , Paris, France,(1950), Munich, Germany,(1952). By 1989, Zonta was established in 15 European countries, and 5 more countries establishing clubs after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In 1994, at the division of District XIV, there were 240 European clubs. This tells us a story of mutual friendship, reconciliation and stabilisation after the damages of the war, increasing engagement in local and international service and empowerment of competent professional women in business and public life. The objectives of ZONTA International were not only attractive for European women. South America, Australia, Africa and Asia followed in the last 60 years. In the same time Europe developed into 8 districts representing more than half of the worldwide members with active leadership at all international levels, boards and committees.
District 14 from 1962 – 1994
When established 1962 District 14 encompassed 27 clubs in 7 countries: Austria 1, France 3, Germany 11, Iran 1, Italy 1, Switzerland 9, UK 1.
The District grew quickly with highly engaged Governors and with Area Directors from different European nationalities united in the ZONTA spirit.
In the year of division 1994, District XIV encompassed about 240 clubs, including 18 clubs/clubs in organization in eastern European countries (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Russia, Croatia, Ukraine) with nearly 7000 members. During the first 30 years countries like France, Germany and Italy were the European core group. Switzerland and The Netherlands followed. Austria, Greece, United Kingdom (ZI counted long-time England and Scotland as two countries) had as middle sized countries not so much Clubs, but concerning European officers they were equal in rights to serve as well as in using their influence- one area (mostly one country, sometimes two countries) – one vote. Between the years 1963 to 1994 countries like Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Israel joined ZONTA, and belonged to D XIV. Portugal had one Club during 1971-1986. Iran started with Teheran 1963, and expanded to three clubs, ended by the Persian Revolution 1979.Being close to the Shah family most of the Zontians migrated to western countries. The club in Istanbul, Turkey, was as well part of D XIV, but in the eighties, when the country was under military control, money transfer and traveling was impossible. At that time D XIV supported the club financially and by personal contacts (I remember a visit in 1980).Finally after ten years a reinstallation of the club was reached in 1991. Cairo, belonging to District XVIII from 1980-1988, requested a redistricting to D XIV .That was accepted at the District Conference in Brighton 1988. The second Club Giza in Egypt, had difficulties of getting a license, therefore although Headquarter has a charter number in the files, the club of Giza was not officially chartered in Egypt. But the club of Giza was invited officially to all D XIV Board meetings. Both clubs had difficulties to transfer money and to follow rules of election and rotation as written in the ZONTA Bylaws. Despite many support efforts of D XIV, Cairo was disbanded 1995.
In Israel, the club of Tel Aviv was established in 1990 and the one in Haifa 1991 (Jerusalem in organization).Many of these clubs, not officially districted to District, were invited and participated in D XIV life, were supported mentally and often economically and felt as if belonging to D XIV. These multilateral relations, historically not without conflicts, but mutual accepted in the large European District, were important concerning the division processes for the new Districts.
Life in District 14
In the first 20 to 30 years, the mental reconciliation and nurturing of mutual respect and understanding between the countries formerly opposed in World War II (and later Cold War) was an important part in the work of District XIV. In this spirit, the District was dedicated to the development of a democratic and peaceful communion of European countries. ZONTA supported this efforts by initiatives to connect a new generation of qualified European women across the whole continent. A generation which was influenced not only by national ideas but also by pan-European and international participation and experiences grew up influenced by ZONTA’s ideals of women’s rights and democratic structures and was thus able to allow Zontians to have an impact on public opinion whereas vice versa European Zontians influenced ZONTA International in thinking and reflections.
Concerning service District XIV was strongly participating in the ZONTA international service projects. In the first years one international project was for displaced persons in Wuppertal and the Anne-Frank Village in Oberhausen, both in Germany. In the fifties the support for refugees in the Middle East and enabling girls to go to school in Ramallah were projects close to European members own experience with wartime and destroyed life opportunities. In the eighties and nineties the Balkan war brought the conflicts nearer to District XIV. The German Area collected enough money to build a shelter in Zagreb for female survivors of rape and orphans care.
A strong initiative to care for orphans and the beginning of programmes concerning aids protection in countries in Africa were initiatives in France. Care France was a strong partner to ZONTA.
The international project to eradicate trafficking from eastern countries to the west was another international service projects that generated a lot of empathy in Europe.
But District XIV was as well strongly involved in Asian international service programmes as of pure drinking water in India, access to education for the girl child in South Africa, health centre in Guatemala and vaccine programme in Nepal and many different violence against women programmes in countries of South America like working with Mapuche Indian Women in Chile.
More and more European Zontians understood that advocating for Women’s rights and helping to end violence against women is a necessity to support and uplift half of the world’s population – who are women. Cooperation with UN increased and ZONTA grew to be THE major donor to UNIFEM (today UN WOMEN). In this context Europeans learned to organize non- profit events and sponsoring.
Local service on the level of the individual clubs varies vastly in the different European countries. Despite cultural differences the majority of the European Clubs are involved in social and educational programmes dedicated to giving chances to young women, supporting female artists, migrants and other assistance programmes. Violence against women was one of the important themes to connect international with local service programmes. Giving beneficial concerts for elderly or organizing food care for refugees or homeless person, training in language, professional aid for unemployed youngster were organized by the clubs. But as well highly skilled young women were continuously uplifted and the international YWPA- ,JMK- as and AE- Awards were successfully implemented at Club, Area and District level.
Through the years the clubs developed a tradition of cultural as well as touristic exchange, thanks to the attractive location within the district. A united European feeling, fostered by the 10 Area Directors, to serve local, national and internationally through all 13 countries belonging to D XIV, developed. District XIV was the first to organize a Convention in Europe in 1976 in Wiesbaden, Germany. To show the huge variety of Europe united in the ZONTA International spirit was the predominant intention of the District members offering this experience to Zontians from all over the world.
Through this these years in District XIV we all became representatives and part of ZONTA’s goal “working together to advance the status of women through service and advocacy”, which is an ongoing process. We Europeans learned from conflicts and have to continue in this process of balancing and overcoming conflicts- this experience of fifty years District XIV might be seen as a lab. The old District XIV and the following five Districts 14,17, 28, 29, 30 in about 20 years offer character which allows explorations into learning to overcome conflicts, respect for cultural and historical diversity and living in various languages and economic disparities, being aware of the fact, that privileged living condition are fragile. But we are learning to respect diversity – and diversity is the biggest treasure that ZONTA has to offer.
District 27 from 1994 to 2016
Highlighting the District 27 History
Today’s District 27 reaches from North-East France, Belgium, Luxembourg, North-East Germany to Poland and Ukraine. When you look at the map, these countries remind us of a chain across North Europe and so Malgorzata Armatys (ZC Warsaw) once proudly called District 27: “crown of Europe”.
Since its beginnings in June 1994, District 27 showed a rapid growth having started with 45 clubs and 1248 members in 4 Areas. Now, end of May 2014, it comprises 77 clubs and 1911 members in 7 Areas. During the last years, however, membership has been stagnating; loss mainly was balanced by chartering of new clubs.
There has been an increased commitment regarding support of the ZIF Award contests on club and district level resulting in several international award recipients of YWPA, JMK, and AE Awards. Over the years, significance of Zonta as an internationally recognized NGO has successfully been enhanced in the minds of Zontians. This is also reflected by the fact that several Zontians of District 27 have been engaged in offices on international level – on the ZI Board and Committees.
Never was it a problem to find Zontians for higher offices on district level. Moreover, in District 27 there has been a relatively balanced national representation in the sequence of Board positions and locations of Conferences. The District 27 atmosphere can be characterized by a friendly cooperation among Zontians of the various countries.
Looking through the reports of our Past Governors, all of them mention the international composition, and how rewarding it was for them to work with Zontians of so many various countries, despite the language problems.
It is also obvious that the active involvement of Polish and Ukrainian Zontians has been most significant and rewarding. Zontians of the West learned from their experience of life in non-democratic and under limited conditions. And Zontians from the East were striving for the experience of international friendship and networking to finally serve and improve their societies. Since some months, we have been feeling deeply concerned about the political and economic drawbacks in the Ukraine and the impact this might have on our fellow Zontians. However, from the beginning in 1994 there has been a tradition in our District to financially support these clubs.
The division of former District 14 was according to the historical conflict lines in Europe and based on certain criteria: no division of France and Germany, no division in a way that would leave the Eastern countries on their own, no division of North and South European countries. Some countries would only stay together in a whole Europe not in a part of it, among them Poland and Germany. Indeed, the design of District 27 contributed to rapid membership growth, increased Zonta friendship and networking across the borders, between East and West.
The history of District 27 has been a success story for Zonta International. For us, the District 27 Zontians, this success story is inspiring to continue working for Zonta’s future – history in the making to advance the status of women.
Highlighting the District 27 History by country and by Area
Germany – Area 03 and 07
Hamburg was the first Zonta town in Germany, with the ZC Hamburg chartered as second club in Europe in 1931. Elizabeth Mc. K. Scott (ZC New York) had presented the Zonta idea to Harriet Wegener and Frieda Radel. Within a few months, 39 founding members made this idea reality. Since then, ZC Hamburg initiated several clubs: Dresden (1932), Munich (1952), Luebeck (1968), Hannover (1974), Hamburg-Elbufer (1987) and Dresden (1993). In these years in Nazi Germany, international organizations became forbidden, and two years after chartering, ZC Hamburg actively closed its official registering as a charitable organization and continued to meet privately – up to now. Proudly we are looking upon the Zontians who did not exclude their Jewish fellow Zontians unlike other service organizations. However, sadly, 6 founding members emigrated and 3 committed suicide.
After WWII, ZC Hamburg was revived and became an official member of ZI again (1949). As Club President from 1937 up into the year 1963, Harriet Wegener wisely led the club through these hard times. Meanwhile, there is a family of five clubs in Hamburg working well together and each of them has a character of its own.
Berlin, the German capital, is home of three clubs one of which is ZC Berlin (1966). In 1992, ZC Berlin 1989, the first club to unite women from former East and West Germany, was chartered. When ZC Berlin-Mitte was founded (2004), at that time the most natural way was to gather women from former East and West Germany. In Berlin, the history of Zonta clubs has always been closely connected to German history. Over the decades, Berlin Zontians experienced the cold war on a daily basis. When the wall finally was pulled down in 1989, the following changes had a tremendous impact on the clubs’ advocacy and service activities. Also other German clubs located geographically close to the former border, actively supported service projects relating to refugees from East Europe.
Today many clubs have specialized on various kinds of educational support for younger women and girls. Outstanding is the cooperation with Femtec, a career-building program for students in natural science and technology initiated and led by ZC Berlin 1989. Over the last 20 years, German clubs have increasingly committed themselves in the ZIF program by offering ZIF awards but also by donating to the Foundation. Many of the fundraising projects have been established as a “tradition” making Zonta a brand in public. The significance of Zonta’s internationality among German members has gained as well, also reflected by more Zontians in office positions on district and international levels.
In both German areas, there has been a rapid growth in membership mainly by chartering of new clubs. Zontians actively spread the word about the Zonta idea and obviously, there has been a demand. Clubs like Luebeck and Bremen each founded several clubs. In order to improve area management, the former Area 03 split into 2 areas (03 and 07) from 2008-2010 on. Even in the recent years, new clubs have been developed, keeping Zonta and Zontians fresh and open for new ideas. In 2014, the first Golden-Z- Club in Germany was chartered by ZC Hamburg Hanse.
France – Area 02
As Area Historian Geneviève Sauve concluded: “Here is the story of a happy Area – her only sorrow is the loss of ZC Montbard in 2011”. Indeed, clubs of this Area have been enjoying to work together for Zonta’s mission but also to celebrate success. Moreover, it is remarkable that Zontians of France reached out expanding Zonta to Poland and Ukraine.
In 1957, Zonta history in this region began with the charter of ZC Lyon. France de la Chaise Mutin (ZC Paris), a remarkable and famous Zontian who became the first and up to now only Zonta International President from France spread the word about Zonta. She also initiated several clubs in France and Belgium and brought Zonta to Poland (ZC Warsaw, 1991).
Two other French Zontians helped introducing Zonta to another Eastern country – to the Ukraine. When ZC Warsaw founded ZC Lviv, Past Governors Annie Becquer and Jacqueline Shernetzky advised the new club in Lviv, later also Lviv-Zamok and Odessa.
As a great result of Franco-German friendship, ZC Dijon was founded in 1980 (by Ursula Blaise, a German living in Dijon). Later on Ursula Bouchard (originating from Germany as well) created a new club in Beaune (1994). Franco-German life on a daily basis has been experienced by members of ZC Wissembourg, a club originally founded in Alsace / France by 19 women from Germany (living and working on both sides of the border) and 5 women from France! Within 10 years, membership has found balance regarding members from both countries. However, language is an ongoing challenge, and all spoken words need to be translated.
There is a remarkably high level of cooperation between the clubs of this Area. Not only inter-club celebrations of events but also mutual achievements like the national book “Famous Women In Our Regions” (2006). Recently ZC Nevers initiated a literary contest “Salon des Dames” in which 50 women authors compete each year for an award for the best novel. Since 2014, this contest has been spread throughout Zonta in France; several local panels of a total of 100 judges select the best feminine novel author
Belgium – in Area 01, 05 and 06
“Give Women Wings” is the Belgium interpretation of Zonta’s mission to advance the status of women, the biennial theme of Past Governor Frieda Demey. Zonta in Belgium was initiated by France de la Chaise Mutin, the first club was founded in 1967 (ZC Bruxelles).
Zonta life in Belgium is very active, cooperative and cheerful, facilitated by short distances and close neighbourhood of the clubs. Moreover, the revision of area organization regarding the Flemish-speaking members in Areas 05 and 06 and the French-speaking members in Area 01 (Belgium Central-South and Luxemburg) led to an even better communication and cooperation. There was rapid membership growth, and several new clubs were founded. Having three Area Boards in function means also an increased number of Zontians engaged in office and committee positions. Belgium has provided the largest number of Governors (and before District 27 was founded, two International Directors: Irène Verschuren 1986-1988 and Mimi Raemdonck 1988-1990).
Service, Advocacy and Fundraising actions have been inspired by the close European institutions located in Brussels, i.e. regarding speakers for public lectures. Also, the presence of the royal family at fundraising events could smartly become utilized for greater visibility in public.
Belgium clubs have been working intensively on the issue of “Umbilical Cord Blood Carrying Stem Cells” (initiated by Lief Aerts and Agnes Vermeulen). A resolution was adopted at the Convention in New York (2004) by the delegates of the whole Zonta world: ZI will support the goal that women should be the only producers and owners of egg cells and umbilical stem cells.
Luxemburg – in Area 01
Zonta was brought to Luxembourg by Belgium Zontians (Claire de Somer, Mimi Raemdonck, Josette Hecht). Soon after the charter of ZC Luxembourg (1993), its members spread the Zonta spirit and created clubs throughout the country: ZC Esch-zur-Alzette (1996), ZC Eisléck (1999) and ZC Luxembourg- Multiculturel (2002), the latter founded with members from 10 different nations, thus reflecting the international significance of Luxembourg.
“I am looking forward to many more years of friendship and commitment in our club” – these are the words of Historian Florence Fischer-Herber (ZC Luxembourg). In fact, besides working for Zonta’s mission, this club has been discovering and valuing especially Zonta friendship. By spending time together travelling to various towns in Europe and visiting local Zonta clubs, its members created a strong bond of Zonta friendship.
Frequent advocacy activities were organized together by the clubs of Luxembourg, which strengthened power, visibility and outcome of their clubs. In 2013, Viviane Reding (Vice President of the European Commission) spoke at an inter-generational workshop organized by the ZC Luxembourg-Multiculturel.
Several Zontians of Luxemburgian clubs have been working on district level – on the Board and in Committees, forwarding the work process due to their multiple language skills.
Poland and Ukraine – Area 04
Cited from Historian Malgorzata Armatys (ZC Warsaw): “We had to learn all starting from basics and we had the best teachers – Zontians from France, Germany and Switzerland.” Some years later, Polish Zontians proudly passed on the support they once received to the Ukrainian clubs.
Zonta history in Poland began during several visits of France de la Chaise Mutin. Around 1988 and 1989, she met Jadwiga Jablonska. As a result, ZC Warsaw was chartered in 1991, followed by clubs in Krakow and Gdansk (both 1993), supported and sponsored by various French and German Zonta Clubs.
Only ZC of Warsaw grew to an internationally well-recognized Club, whereas, the Zonta Clubs of Krakow and Gdansk were disbanded in 2003 and 2010, respectively, due to local membership problems. ZC Warsaw built relationships to Zontians all over the world by organizing several sightseeing tours on the occasion of club anniversaries and conventions in Europe. But also international panel discussions and seminars took place. ZC Warsaw proudly presented several international ZIF awards to girls and young women. Altogether, these efforts contributed to the recognition of ZC Warsaw locally and in the international Zonta world.
From the beginning, it was clear for the Polish Zontians to promote Zonta in Ukraine, a country charged with good and bad emotions in the historical memory of Poles. In 1995, Olha Sydorenko from Lviv listened to the Polish radio station when Jadwiga Jablonska from Warsaw presented a News Briefing about Zonta. Olha took action and finally in 1997, was Club President of the newly chartered ZC Lviv, actively supported by the French Past Governors Annie Becquer and Jacqueline Shernetzky.
Thanks to Olha, Annie and Jacqueline, some years later also ZC Lviv-Zamok (2001) could become established, as well as a third club in Odessa (2002). The fourth Ukrainian club, ZC Uzhgorod, was founded in 2003 by ZC Corvallis / USA (Pete Bober) as a result of a sister city association. Since then several visits were exchanged between Zontians of Corvallis and Uzhgorod. For some years, also ZC Hamburg-Alster / Germany supported ZC Uhzgorod by donating to their local service projects and exchanging visits. Financial support by the District had meanwhile been decreased in order to initiate clubs being self-supporting.