Women’s rights have changed in the past four decades but there has been one constant in the corner of Launceston’s female community – the Zonta Club of Launceston.
The club, which advocates the successes of women and girls, and can affect change at a local, national and international level, is celebrating its 40th year.
The Zonta movement aims to elevate women and girls to the lofty heights of its most famous patron – Amelia Earhart.
Women’s rights have been in the spotlight this year, with the advancement of the #MeToo domestic violence campaign and exposure over the gender pay gap on popular Netflix drama The Crown.
Over forty years, the needs of women have changed – and the Zonta Club has changed along with it.
“When we first started we used to have a gown of the year parade and competitions where garments were judged, and there were open gardens and jazz in the garden,” Launceston member Carol Fuller said.
“But the club is a dynamic club in that the needs change depending on the members, and their needs, friendships, interest and skills.”
Mrs Fuller said you could see how society and women’s position within that society had changed.
Today, the group works more with Launceston’s migrant community among managing their other commitments, thanks to a new partnership with the Migrant Resource Centre.
“That’s a fairly new partnership, probably only in the last 18 months,” Launceston Zonta Club president Sue Dyson said.
“They [the Migrant Resource Centre] came to give a talk to the club and after that we began thinking of things we could do to support them.”
Each project the Zonta Club supports may not be worth a lot financially but it has far-reaching impacts.
“We helped to sponsor some girls to go on a camp, Afghani girls,” member Debra Kemp said.
“Their families were worried about letting the girls go but they went and it worked out so well.
“The girls came back with so much more confidence, they were so enthusiastic and its opened the doors for other girls from other cultures. Their families now feel safe and part of the community.”
The Zonta Club helps support local scholarships, works with the migrant community and has taken responsibility of the White Ribbon committee in Tasmania.
Zonta was founded in Buffalo, New York in 1919.
The Launceston Club was started in 1977, 58 years after the original club was founded in the US.
Now, it is a global organisation of nearly 30,000 members in 1200 Zonta Clubs in 66 countries.
The international organisation has ties to the United Nations.
It will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2019.
Zonta is a Sioux Native American word that means ‘honest and trustworthy.’
Each member of the Launceston Zonta Club has her own reasons for joining the club, but all of them stem from a desire to give back to their local community and help other women.
“We all have a different sense of purpose but we come under a common banner,” Tasmania president Christine Hepburn said.
“We all want to do something in the community, in some way, but we all have different motivations that tap into our interests and who we are.”
For her, Mrs Hepburn said it was hearing about the amazing things were being done by women in the local community.
“One of the recipients of the Jane M Klausman Young Women in Business award,” she said.
“She was a young refugee and went through university with her dad, they graduated at the same time.
“But doing that enabled her to do a project in her original homeland, she won that award at district and international and that enabled her to enact change in her local community.”
Mrs Dyson said one thing that drew her to the Zonta Club was hearing about how the club’s helped third world countries through their famous birthing kits.
“I came one night to find out more about the club but the birthing kits was one thing that appealed to me. I’m humbled to think about simple things like that that makes such a difference to some women.”
Mrs Dyson said the Launceston Zonta Club prepared 300 birth kits, which include a plastic mat, sutures and a scalpel, to cut the umbilical cord, last year.
“The kits cost us $3.”
The club aims to create a couple of hundred birthing kits a year and always try to outdo the previous year’s total.
Mrs Kemp said while women’s rights had changed there was still a lot more work to be done.
“There are a lot of things that we are still lagging behind, this year has highlighted the difference in equality that still goes on today.”
However, as with all service clubs, the Zonta Club is facing a drop in numbers, which the Launceston members blame on societal changes.
“People these days like to give in other ways, they will run a marathon or donate online,” Mrs Hepburn said.
Mrs Dyson said she believed societal pressures such as work and family made it impossible for people to volunteer.
“A lot of clubs who have been going for a while to tend to get a certain demographic and I think that can sometimes put people off,” she said.
“I think it’s also commitment, the world is so busy.
“People just go ‘can I fit any more in’ and they can’t. It’s not young people aren’t committed to the community.”
The Launceston Zonta Club has a meeting once a month, that goes for two hours, and they try to schedule a fundraising activity or event once every six weeks.
“Whether it’s a birthing kit day, or we bake shortbread to raise funds or social events like a trivia night,” Mrs Dyson said.
“We try to space about eight activities over the years and then little spin offs can happen from those.”
Mrs Fuller said they spent a whole day making shortbread and managed to bake 150 dozen.
I’m humbled to think about simple things like that that makes such a difference....Zonta Club president Sue Dyson
“But all of it was sold before we’d even baked it.”
The Zonta Club will host a civic reception at the Launceston Town Hall on Tuesday to mark its 40th anniversary.
The ceremony will have a special guest – Tasmanian Governor Kate Warner.
“We were just lucky that one of our members suggested that we invited her Excellency,” Mrs Dyson said.
“Even though we weren’t sure that she’d even come, we extended the invitation and she replied to say she would be delighted.”
Although Her Excellency isn’t an official Zontian, she remains supportive of the group’s efforts.
And despite the fact all of their motivations are different, all the Zontians agree on one thing:
“It’s empowering women and girls through service and advocacy. It’s as simple as that.”