Zonta celebrates 97 years of advancing the status of women

Founded in Buffalo, New York in 1919, Zonta International is the only international service organization dedicated to advancing the status of women. 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.1

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 nearly 30,000 members in nearly 1,200 clubs in 67 countries all over the world. Zonta International’s headquarters is located in Oak Brook. There are currently 17 Zonta clubs in Illinois, located in Alton-Wood River, Arlington Heights, Aurora, Belvidere, Chicago, Effingham, Evanston, Joliet, Kankakee, LaSalle-Peru, Lincoln, Mascoutah, Oak Brook, Ottawa, Springfield, St. Charles-Batavia, and Streator.

Zonta International is affiliated with the United Nations as a non-governmental organization (NGO). Zonta has affiliation or consultative status with numerous groups within the UN, including with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the International Labor Organization (ILO), the Conference of NCOs (CONGO), UNESCO, and the Human Rights Commission.

According to Zonta International’s website, “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.” At the international level, Zonta supports the efforts of the United Nations and its member states to empower women through the adoption and fulfillment of international conventions and treaties, including the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women or CEDAW.

Since 1923, Zonta has provided more than $13 million to projects benefiting women in 36 countries. Currently, Zonta funds international programs seeking the elimination of obstetric fistula and reduction of maternal and newborn mortality in Liberia, working toward an HIV-free generation and preventing and responding to gender-based violence in Rwanda, and responding to violence in and around gender-based schools in Vietnam.

Additionally, through the Zonta International Foundation, Zonta funds the Zonta International Strategies to End Violence Against Women (ZISVAW) Program. Zonta recognizes that gender-based violence is the most pervasive and least recognized human rights violation. Through the ZISVAW Program, Zonta is currently funding programs responding to the needs of adolescent girls in Niger and educating Girl Scouts and Girl Guides about ending violence against women and girls. In line with these projects, Zontians around the world are working to end violence against women through the “Zonta Says NO” to Violence Against Women campaign.

Every Zonta district and club around the world implements its own service and advocacy initiatives. Zontians apply global human rights principles and Zonta International’s goals at the local level. For example, the Zonta Club of LaSalle-Peru raises money for ADV&SAS, a local service provider for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Every year, the LaSalle-Peru club collects cleaning and household products to provide to survivors of domestic and sexual violence leaving the shelter and establishing their own households in the community. Other clubs prepare birthing kits for women in Uganda and Haiti, advocate to pass legislation aimed at ending gender-based violence and early marriage, raise awareness of human trafficking, conduct workshops that assist women with resume writing and interviewing skills to enable them to become financially independent, and sponsor scholarships.

In honor of pilot and Zontian Amelia Earhart, Zonta International established the Amelia Earhart Fellowship. The fellowship is awarded annually to women pursuing Ph.D./doctoral degrees in aerospace-related sciences or aerospace-related engineering. Since the program’s inception, Zonta has awarded 1,473 Amelia Earhart Fellowships, totaling more than $9 million, to women representing 70 countries. Zonta International also offers other awards to young women in public affairs and women pursuing business degrees.

People frequently believe that the word Zonta is an acronym – it is not. The word “Zonta” is derived from the Lakhota (Teton Dakota) word meaning honest and trustworthy. Members have the opportunity to attend the Zonta International convention that is held every two years in different locations throughout the world, as well as attend their district and area conferences. This year’s Zonta International convention is being held in Nice, France.

Zonta is a truly great organization. If you would like to impact the lives of women in your community and around the globe, you should consider joining a Zonta club. Information about Zonta International and links to local Zonta clubs can be found at Zonta International’s website: www.zonta.org.


Melissa Olivero serves as an administrative law judge for the National Labor Relations Board. She is also a member of the Zonta Club of LaSalle-Peru. 

1. Much of the information for this article comes from Zonta International’s website, <www.zonta.org>.

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March 2016Volume 21Number 4PDF icon PDF version (for best printing)