The founding of Zonta International occupies a unique moment in women's history. Established in Buffalo, New York, USA in 1919, early 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, though still comparatively small, legion of women entering the workforce.
Over the decades, Zonta International has grown into a worldwide service organization of executives in business and the professions working together to advance the status of women. There are more than 30,000 members in more than 1,200 clubs in 63 countries all over the world.
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. Over the past decades, Zonta has been instrumental to the elimination of gender discrimination in job opportunities and rates of pay.
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.
The Amelia Earhart Fellowships Program, launched in 1938, commemorates groundbreaking aviator and Zontian Amelia Earhart. The Z Club Program was established to promote youth leadership and career mentorship. The work of Zonta over time keeps improving educational, leadership and youth development opportunities for women around the world.
One of the first service organizations to understand women's unique role in achieving world peace, Zonta International continues to promote justice and universal respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Zonta Clubs still select, fund and participate in community projects fundamental to promoting women's economic self-sufficiency, political equality, access to education and health care and the elimination of violence against women.
Each year, Zontians dedicate thousands of volunteer hours and millions of dollars to affecting these changes, while the Zonta International programs funded by the Zonta International Foundation impact these issues on a global level.
Helping Shape Women's Lives in the 20th and 21st Centuries
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 an executive or decision-making level in a recognized business or profession. In addition, each club could have just one member per business classification, a requirement that ensured clubs would consist of "experts" in a broad range of fields. The founders foresaw the benefits of having clubs made up of architects, artists, educators, entrepreneurs, executives, doctors, government officials, lawyers, pilots, scientists and more. This diverse expertise meant clubs could offer their communities and the world optimum service, backed by a broad range of understanding and insight.
Today, in Asia, District 17 serves as an operating arm of Zonta International. District 17 comprises of clubs in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand under the leadership of a District 17 Governor and the District 17 Board.