(A History of District 17 as of April 1, 2016) by Erlinda E. Panlilio (District Historian, 2012-2016) 


Responding to the impetus for international growth in the 1950s, Zonta International turned its sights toward Asia. This was realized with the organization in June 1952 of the Zonta Club of Manila 1, making the Philippines the 12th country to become part of the Zonta organization.

It was not until 1960 with the chartering of the Zonta Club of Bombay 1 (India) that another country joined the Zonta family.

Then, in 1962, Japan became part of Zonta with the chartering of the Zonta Club of Tokyo I.

In 1963, the Zonta Club of Taipei in Taiwan, Republic of China, joined the work of Zonta in that country.

In 1968, the first Zonta club in southern Philippines, Cebu I, was organized.

1969 saw the organization of further Philippine Zonta clubs--Quezon City, Baguio, Bacolod and Davao 1. It was also the first time a Zonta club was organized in Thailand, with the chartering of the ZC of Bangkok I in Feb. 1969.

Dorothy Thompson shows up in the history of Philippine Zonta clubs as having organized the clubs in Cebu, Baguio, Bacolod, Davao, and Quezon City under IP Helvi Sipila, who personally came to hand the charter certificates of these clubs in 1969.

Clubs continued to be organized in Metro Manila with the chartering of the ZC of Makati & Environs, and of Mandaluyong-San Juan in 1971. Both received their charter certificates from then IP Leota Pekrul. This year marked the entry of a new Zonta country to the District—Singapore—with the chartering of the ZC of Singapore on June 1, 1971.

Hong Kong joined the Zonta family the following year (1972) with the chartering of the ZC of Hong Kong I on Feb. 12, 1972.

More clubs continued to be organized during the ‘70s but it wasn’t until the 1980s when a flurry of club formations began in earnest.


In the early years of Zonta in Asia, 12 countries made up what was then Region l. These were: Bangladesh, Republic of China (Taiwan), Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Thailand, led by an Area Director for each country. A Regional Conference (now known as the District Conference) was led by Dr. Grit Sawada in Nagoya, Japan in 1975.

Two subsequent conferences were held in Hong Kong in 1977 and in Korea in 1979 with Karen Loh and Mary Lee as Regional Representatives, respectively, presiding. Among matters discussed at the 1979 Conference was the forthcoming districting of Region l as directed by Zonta International.

Region 1 became District 17 on 19 September 1979. Its elected officers led by Gov. Cecilia M. Palma (Philippines) and Lt. Gov. Nancy Huang (Taiwan) were installed by IP Evelyn de Witt at the International Convention in Washington DC in July 1980.

Pursuant to ZI Bylaws and after consultation with clubs, the District was divided into seven Areas with corresponding ADs as follows:

Area 1 - Bangladesh, India, Pakistan & Sri Lanka with Mitha Shroff of Bombay l as Area Director

Area 2 - Japan, with Miyo Yamada of Kyoto as AD

Area 3 - Korea, with Woul-Young Chu of Seoul as AD

Area 4 - Taiwan, ROC, with Hsi-Wen Chang of Taipei 1 as AD

Area 5 - Hong Kong, under AD Peggy Lam

Area 6 - Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, with Nenet Sirisamphan of Bangkok 1 as AD

Area 7 - Philippines, under AD Suga S. Yuvienco of Cebu

The inauguration ceremony celebrating the organization of District 17 was held in Manila on 12 September 1980.


At the District Conference held in Madras, India, on December 3, 1989, IP-elect Leneen Forde introduced the ZI proposal to divide D17 into three new districts. She explained that this had become necessary because there were already more than 70 clubs in 11 countries. Moreover, with cultural differences and with such vast distances between them, it was almost impossible for the governor to efficiently administer the affairs of the district and attend annual area meetings and club functions as expected of her.

Following a spirited and even acrimonious discussion, finally, by majority vote, the following grouping was agreed upon:

Hong Kong/Indonesia/Philippines/Thailand—Dist.17 (Indonesia would later leave ZI. In 2014, Macau joined District 17)

Bangladesh/India/Singapore/Sri Lanka -- Dist. 25 (Singapore objected to its inclusion, arguing they were geographically distant from the other countries in the Indian Ocean. They were in SE Asia, hence they were moved to Dist. 17.)

While acknowledging that the remaining three countries would have difficulties, Zonta International support could be extended as it had done in South America.

Japan/Korea/Taiwan (ROC) -- Dist. 31

Election of District Governor followed immediately, with Dr. Carmen E. Santos elected Governor of D-17 in absentia due to a coup d’etat in the Philippines on Dec. 1, 1989, which prevented her and other Filipino Zontians from leaving.

From 1990, District 17 was made up of two Areas. However, at the Area 1 meeting in 1995, attended by IP Folake Solanke as special guest, Area 1 was split into four areas covering: Metropolitan Manila (Areas 1 and 5), Visayas and Mindanao (Area 3), and the northern provinces of the Philippines (Area 4). Then, in 1999 Area 2 was further split into two, with Thailand being spun off as Area 6, while Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia remained as Area 2.

Following the split of the Areas of District 17 in 1989, as of April 1, 2016, these are the clubs under the six Areas of District 17:

Area 1 (14 clubs--Metro Manila clubs north of the Pasig River and beyond): Manila, I, II & III, Quezon City, Mandaluyong-San Juan I & II, Greater Rizal I & II, Valle Verde, Marikina, Antipolo, Baliuag, Pampanga, E-Club of the Philippines 1

Area 2 (9 clubs): Hong Kong I & II, Singapore, Kowloon, Hong Kong East, The New Territories, Victoria, Kuala Lumpur, and Macau. (The older club in Malaysia, Kuantan, was delisted for lack of interest.)

Area 3 (11 clubs in southern Philippines): Cebu I & II, Davao I & II, Bacolod, Iloilo I & II, Cagayan de Oro I & II, Zamboanga, Tacloban

Area 4: (7 clubs in northern Philippines): Baguio, Ilocos Norte, Tuguegarao, Central Tuguegarao, Aparri, La Union-San Fernando City, and La Trinidad (in Baguio)

Area 5: (18 Metro Manila clubs south of the Pasig River and beyond): Makati & Environs, Pasig, Muntinlupa & Environs, Makati-Ayala, Laguna, Naga & Camarines Sur, Metro Rizal, Metropolitan Pasig, Cavite, Lucena & Environs, Las Piñas, Metro Ortigas, Makati-Paseo de Roxas, Fort Bonifacio, Alabang, Parañaque, Pasay & Environs, and Makati-Central Business District.

Area 6 (15 clubs in Thailand): Bangkok I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, Khonkaen, Chiangmai, Chiengrai, Phitsanulok, Ratchaburi

Note: It is District 17’s pride that its past Governor, Olivia A. Ferry, became the first Asian to be elected International President, serving from 2006-2008, and subsequently, Chair of the International Nominating Committee. Other past Governors— Carlye Tsui, Kathleen Yip, Anna Kwong, Virma Vergel de Dios, Imelda “Dandy” Gomez, Winnie Teoh-- went up the Zonta ladder to serve as International Director and later, as Member of the ZI Nominating Committee. Narudee Kiengsiri was a member of the INC from 2014-2016. Virma served as ZI Committee Chair for Z & Golden Z Clubs, then as cochair of the ZI Membership Committee; Dandy served as Vice-chair of the ZI Service Committee. Erlinda E. Panlilio served as Chair of the International PR & Communications Committee.

IP Maria Jose Landeira Oestergaard (2014-2016) appointed PIP Olivia Ferry to organize and head the First Asian Inter-District Meeting from March 13-15, 2016 in Manila, which brought together Zontians in District 17, 25 (India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal), 26 (Japan), 31 (Taiwan), and Mongolia.

District Conferences, held every biennium on an odd year, provide an opportunity to the governor to report on the progress of key Zonta concerns, which center on membership growth, service projects that should ideally be mission-focused, and advocacy for women’s rights and the elimination of violence against them. The District Ambassador reports on funds raised and remitted to ZIF.

In the early years, clubs went about willy-nilly in addressing their community’s concerns—beautification of parks, planting trees, setting up an aquarium and an orchidarium (Manila I), feeding malnourished children, conducting free clinics and medical missions, day care centers, setting up Zonta villages (Mandaluyong-San Juan) or building low-cost houses for the poor with a partner (ZC-Makati & Environs). Later, club services became more mission-focused: training women in livelihood skills to help them earn an income with an option for micro-credit; educating them on their legal rights; (since November 2012), organizing forums on “Say No: Unite to End Violence Against Women.” On women’s health: breast-cancer seminars have been conducted, coupled with free screening, and cervical cancer detection through free Pap smear tests. ZC-Mandaluyong-San Juan II has a continuing “Breast Mass Biopsy” program at the Correctional Institution for Women, where they have screened 2,100 inmate-patients.

Other random projects are those in: Area 6 (Thailand), which has a Dairy Village with 25 families working together in a cooperative. Each family has 30 cows that are milked by the women. Production is between 2,500 to 5,000 liters of milk daily, processed within the village. Income from the milk averages US$33,500 monthly, giving financial freedom to the residents of this remote village 130 miles outside Bangkok.

Hong Kong clubs have partnered with other NGOs or charitable institutions to implement Zonta programs. Hong Kong I has helped young women suffering from substance abuse or are at high risk thereof. In 2014-2015, the club worked in partnership with a local NGO in support of the “Zonta Says No” campaign, providing counseling and other services to women and families with domestic violence-related issues in a district with many low-income families.

ZC - Kowloon supports an “Anti 480-Anti-Sexual Violence Resource” center operated by their NGO partner.

ZC - The New Territories had a “Say No-Step Out” advocacy campaign, an educational and prevention project on Sexual Violence against Disabled Women in Hong Kong. The club also sponsored scholarships for the ethnic minority students at various HK universities.

The ZC of Singapore has an ongoing project with schools to identify girls from disadvantaged families, to whom they extend financial assistance and life-skills training. They have offered motivational and leadership programs for students, and conducted a seminar on “Teens and the Law.”

The ZC of Muntinlupa has “Sagip,” a 24-hour crisis shelter for abused women, with trained policewomen handling crimes against women.

The ZC of Makati & Environs has a Psychological Center housing an average of 250 girls aged 6 to 17, who are survivors of trafficking, cyber sexual exploitation, or sexual abuse by a male relatives. Here, girls are helped to overcome their trauma; are taught how to protect themselves against their abusers, advised on their legal rights, and given workshops on the dangers of teen pregnancy. The club also has a successful 5-year program of scholarships for girls enrolled in normally maledominated Engineering courses.

The ZC-Makati Ayala partnered with Unifem in producing thousands of comic books on women’s rights, anti-VAW, and anti-trafficking, which were distributed in provincial communities that are normally targeted by traffickers plying their nefarious trade. The Zonta clubs of Cebu 1 & 2 have put up a Pink Center, a one-stop crisis center for women and children-victims of abuse and violence.

In the last biennium, many clubs have conducted seminars for girls on the disadvantages of early marriage and the dangers of teen pregnancy. Area 6 conducted a “Stop Teen Mom” campaign.

Area 1 and 5 Zontians had been at the forefront of the passage of the “Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children Law,” monitoring the bill’s progress in Congress all through its enactment.

Since 2012, all clubs have vigorously campaigned to “Say No—Stop Violence Against Women,” especially during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, by holding marches, forums, radio and TV interviews.

Inspired by District 23, Area 5 made 10,000 birthing kits, which they distributed to pregnant women and Lying-in centers (maternity clinics) in several poor communities.

Addressing visibility, most clubs (Zamboanga, Iloilo, Baguio, Makati & Environs, to name a few) have put up Zonta road markers and signs. The ZC of Kowloon had a big poster on “Zonta Says NO!” amid the bustle of the HK subway.

The District Website was relaunched during the term of DG Lalivan (2014-2016). Area 1 was commended as the first Area with 100% submission of club Webpages.

During the ZI Convention in Torino (2012), two clubs in District 17 were recognized as “Outstanding clubs”—Makati & Environs got the first place award, Iloilo I, 3rd place.

Several District winners have gone on to win ZI’s Jane M. Klausman Women in Business Scholarships. To mention a few, the respective candidates of Hong Kong 1 and Manila II had won the JMK award. Again, HKG 1 and Quezon City’s candidates won the Young Women in Public Affairs award. ZC-Laguna’s Z and Golden Z Clubs have consistently won the Emma Conlon Service award. For the first time, in 2011, District 17 had an Amelia Earhart Fellow.

Despite the distance of District 17 countries from the US and Europe, International Presidents have generally lent their presence to Conferences. IP Shirley Schneider (1980-82) attended the First Conference led by Governor Cecilia M. Palma in Bangkok, Thailand on November 11-13, 1981

IP Cornelia Hodges (1982-84) attended the Second Conference in Taipei, Taiwan on Nov. 1-3, 1983 led by Governor Nancy Huang of Taipei. 300 Zontians and guests were present.

IP Anniki Makinnen (1984-86) came to Tokyo, Japan for the Third Conference under Governor Dolly Ng (Hong Kong). Only four of 65 clubs in District 17 at the time were not represented. 536 Zontians and guests attended. Crown Princess Michiko was a special guest.

The Fourth Conference in Manila had IP Amey Grubbs (1986-88) with Governor Kiyo Akiyama of Japan.

Both IP Ruth Walker (1988-1990) and IP-elect Leneen Forde flew to Madras, India for the Fifth Conference, as it was at this crucial Conference, led by Korean Governor Joanne Lee, that the division of District 17 would be taken up.

With the successful split of District 17 into three new districts (see “Division of District 17” above), Dr. Carmen Enverga-Santos presided over the Sixth Conference in Bangkok, Thailand on November 18-21, 1991. IP Leneen Forde was there.

No IP was present at the Seventh Conference in Jakarta, Indonesia on October 29- 31, 1993. Gro Ramsten Wesenberg represented IP Sonja Renfer. Presiding was Governor Carlye Tsui of Hong Kong. There were two clubs in Indonesia at the time— Jakarta and Kebayoran.

Olivia Ferry was the Governor at the Eighth Conference held in Singapore on Nov. 8-10, 1995. After IP Folake Solanke delivered her keynote address, ZID Mary Magee took over. At the close of the biennium, six new clubs had been chartered in existing Zonta countries, and Malaysia became a Zonta country with the organization of the Zonta Club of Kuantan.

Governor Anna Kwong of Hong Kong led the Ninth Conference in Cebu City, Philippines on November 6-8, 1997, with IP Josephine Cooke in attendance. ZI Honorary Member Corazon C. Aquino, former President of the Philippines, was the keynote speaker.

The comprehensive, 37-page District “Rules of Procedure” prepared by Olivia A. Ferry as a supplement to the ZI Bylaws and Rules of Procedure were voted on and adopted at the Conference.

The ZC of Chiangmai in Thailand and the ZC of Cagayan de Oro II in Area 3 were added to the District. Regrettably, the two Zonta clubs of Indonesia—Jakarta and Kebayoran—disbanded because of the political situation, allegedly, the repression of women and Chinese nationals.

The 10th Conference, led by Governor Brenda Tanjutco, was held in Hong Kong on Nov. 5-7, 1999, in the presence of ZI Vice-President Margit Webjorn, who represented IP Val Sarah. 332 Zontians and guests attended.

Kathleen Yip led the 11th Conference in Bangkok, Thailand on October 19 to 21, 2001, attended by Int’l Director Susan Noakes, representing IP Mary Magee. The Zonta clubs of Hong Kong II, Chiengrai I and Bangkok VII in Thailand, and Antipolo in the Philippines, were chartered during the biennium.

The 12th Conference was led by Governor Imelda “Dandy” Gomez on Oct. 10-12, 2003 in Manila. Representing IP Margit Webjorn was ZI Vice President Betty Jane Bourdon. Total registration was 536. Two Zonta clubs were chartered in the first half of the biennium: Phitsanulok in Area 6 and the Zonta Club of Baliuag in Area 1. This brought the total to 66 clubs in District17. A remarkable growth in Z and Golden Z Clubs was registered.

Kuantan in Malaysia was the venue of the 13th Conference led by the first Thai Governor, Subhaporn Peters, on September 16-18, 2005. ZI President Mary Ellen Bittner was represented by ZI Director Lynn McKenzie. 236 Zontians participated.

Governor Virma P. Vergel de Dios convened the 14th Conference jointly with Governor Bi-Shiou Chiou as the First Inter-District Conference of D-17 & D-31 on Sept. 14 to 16, 2007 in Laoag City in Northern Luzon, Philippines. P-E Beryl Sten represented IP Olivia Ferry, whereas IP Ferry attended the District 31 Conference.

This was the first joint conference in the District, with joint Opening & Closing ceremonies, Workshops, and Socials/Fellowship events, while the business sessions were held separately with the respective International Representatives for each district.

Attendance: 388 Zontians & guests. Amendments to the D-17 Rules of Procedure were proposed and approved.

ZI President Beryl Sten attended the 15th Conference of Governor Narudee Kiengsiri in Bangkok on Sept. 17-19, 2009. Thai Princess, HRH Srirasmi, opened the Conference. Keynote Speaker was Dr. Jean D’Cunha, UNIFEM’s Regional Programme Director. Two new clubs had been added; thus, with a count of 70 clubs and 2003 members, District growth achieved was 4.66% from the previous biennium.

In the presence of IP Dianne Curtis, Governor Georgitta “Beng” Puyat presided over the 16th Conference in Manila on August 26-28, 2011. Conference Chair was PIP Olivia Ferry. UN Undersecretary-General Noeleen Heyzer was the keynote speaker, although she couldn’t come at the last minute.

As three clubs had been added during the biennium, there were a total of 73 clubs represented; three by proxy. Attendance: 426 Zontians and 3 Golden Z members.

The Rules of Procedure were amended further. The Governor reported 100% contribution from all clubs to ZIF. District 17 had a harvest of International awards--its JMK awardee won in each year; the YWPA awardee also won; ZC-Laguna again won the Emma Conlon prize for its Z and Golden Z clubs; and for the first time, we had an Amelia Earhart Fellow.

Because of surplus funds accumulated from past Conferences and savings from operations in past biennia, a resolution was passed creating a committee of past Governors to advise the Governor on funding relevant Zonta activities such as a calamity fund to assist a distressed District 17 country; subsidizing the organization of new clubs through an O&E Fund; and a possible subsidy in case of an increase in International and District dues. A further resolution was passed that surplus funds from this Conference would be distributed back to clubs in a formula agreed upon at the board meeting in Singapore on March 11, 2011.

The 17th Conference was led by Governor Winnie Teoh of the ZC of Kowloon, and hosted by the six Hong Kong clubs, from Sept. 13-15, 2013. ZI Director Anita Schnetzer-Spranger represented IP Lynn McKenzie. The Governor reported that at the beginning of the biennium, 79% of the 73 clubs in the district did not maintain a website. She thus offered all clubs complimentary exposure of their activities through Club Web Pages, uploaded as part of the District 17 website. As of May 2014, a total of 58 clubs (82%) had a website or club page. This has resulted in great visibility for all clubs. At the end of the biennium, the district had 73 clubs with 2098 members, eight Golden Z and seven Z clubs. 96% of clubs were represented at the Conference, with an attendance of 480 Zontians. The first-ever, district-wide Advocacy Forum was held in Manila to: “Say NO--UNITE against Domestic Violence Now!” attended by 300 Zontians from 42 clubs.

Governor Lalivan Karnchanachari presided over the 18th Conference in Bangkok, Thailand on Sept. 18-20, 2015. President-elect Sonja Hönig Schough represented IP Maria Jose Landeira Oestergaard. Special opening guest was Thai Princess, HRH Soamsawali. Over 90% of Clubs were represented with a total of 429 Zontians and Golden Z members. Amendments to the Rules of Procedure submitted by Bylaws chair, PIP Olivia Ferry, were approved. The first Golden Z Forum of District 17 took place. Three new Clubs were chartered in one year; with the first E-Club in Asia, EClub of Philippines 1. A record high of 31 Z and Golden Z Clubs were chartered. Membership increased by almost 12.5% since November 2013, up from 2,040 to 2,295 by December 2015. The Governor was delighted that District 17, with its 74 clubs had become the biggest district in the Zonta world!

Quoting from the meaning of the Zonta emblem

What appears to be the letter “Z” is actually the Sioux symbol for “ray of light,” “sunshine” or “flash of radiance—and so by extension, “inspiration”.

District 17 may be said to be a ray of light, embodying Zonta’s vibrant presence in Asia, serving as an inspiration for women empowering other women wherever they may be!