100 Years of Zonta International – A Special Centennial Message from President Susanne von Bassewitz

“It was the vision of a better world that inspired the women who founded Zonta in Buffalo. …

“In the hundred years that started on the 8 November 1919, Zonta has expanded into 63 countries. Thousands of women have joined the movement since then. Among them was one of the first women journalists, the first woman who flew an aircraft over the Atlantic ocean and the first female Assistant-Secretary General of the United Nations. 

“The members of Zonta are supporting each other in today’s more than 1,200 clubs. And together, they have empowered countless women in the entire world. We raise our voice for women’s rights and raise funds to provide a wide range of services in our communities and internationally. …”

Watch and hear a special centennial message from President Susanne von Bassewitz’s below.

UN partners wish Zonta a happy 100th anniversary with special messages

Congratulations on your centenary! At UN Women, we greatly value Zonta International and the Zonta International Foundation’s role and work, as well as the endeavors of Zontians around the world. We are grateful for this partnership and your continued, unwavering support of women and girls.

Young women like Rema Fayez Albtoush, of the UN Women Oasis Centre in Taibeh, Jordan, who is a graduate of the home maintenance training program, now have a chance to live their dreams, after struggling to work in non-traditional fields. Ms. Albtoush now wants to start her own micro-business in plumbing, and like many who are empowered through this program, is confident that she can start her own business through the technical skills she has learned.

We commend your commitment also to preventing and ending violence against women and girls, where again your investment in our work in Jordan helps to empower, protect and support women. As a result, even in the most difficult of circumstances, these women are now able to earn an income, play a bigger role in household decision-making, improve household nutrition and combat gender-based violence.

It is women like these whose changed lives demonstrate the impact of our work together and the potential it holds for women and for society as a whole. We are proud of our strong collaborative relationship. Long may it continue.

We also thank you for your support of our work to prevent violence in urban spaces where we address the links between labor migration and human trafficking, and your support for women’s organizations through the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against Women. 

Next year’s 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action will offer further opportunities for our partnership and to celebrate our collaboration with every Zontian.

I send you my warm congratulations and look forward to driving ahead together to bring hope and change to even those left furthest behind.

—Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under-Secretary-General and UN Women Executive Director


Photo courtesy of UNICEF USA

Zonta International’s commitment is having a transformative impact on efforts to end child marriage. In addition to providing crucial financial support to the Global Programme to End Child Marriage in 12 countries, Zonta members are also using their voices to advocate for girls all over the world who are impacted by or at risk of child marriage.

Throughout UNICEF USA’s 47-year partnership with Zonta, we have seen that civil society organizations and their members enable UNICEF to maximize its reach and impact.

—Caryl M. Stern, President and CEO UNICEF USA


Photo: Portraits Zambia UNFPA Mauritius

UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, extends its warmest congratulations to Zonta International on their centennial anniversary. For more than 10 years, UNFPA has been proud to partner with Zonta to empower women and girls, efforts defined by our joint commitment to improving the lives of the most marginalized among them, and to leaving no one behind.

We at UNFPA are fortunate to count Zonta International among our many allies supporting our global efforts to deliver a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.

Our partnership over the past decade has helped improve the health and lives of adolescent girls, facilitating their access to education, empowering them through female mentorship, and protecting them from violence and harmful practices, including child marriage. Zonta has also been a key partner in our efforts to prevent and treat obstetric fistula and support the social reintegration of survivors.

We look forward to continuing our fruitful collaboration to ensure that every girl and woman everywhere can enjoy her full spectrum of human rights and live with dignity and respect.

—Dr. Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of UNFPA

Not-so-well-known facts about another centennial

By Susanne von Bassewitz, International President

What was achieved in June 1919 with the 19th Amendment passing the U.S. Congress was obviously a big success, but female suffrage remained a controversial cause until it was officially ratified in August 1920. 

Casey Cep, author of the article “Finish the Fight,” published in the 8th/15th July issue of the New Yorker, reminds the reader that, at this centennial, it is worth considering why women had to fight so hard and who, exactly, was fighting against them. 

Did you know that New York’s original voting laws included mention of “he or she” and “his or her ballot,” but that the female pronouns were struck in 1777?

Have you heard of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy of six indigenous nations gathered in the region of the Great Lakes to form an egalitarian society, and that Haudenosaunee women helped select the chiefs and had a say in matters of war and peace? Which was witnessed firsthand by the 19th century suffragists?

And, were you aware that when suffrage was finally passed in the state of Tennessee, the last step to fully ratify the 19th Amendment, the final vote in the Tennessee House of Representatives was 46 ‘nays’ and 50 ‘ayes?’ 

Cep directs us to two books that seem to be a valuable read: The Women’s Suffrage Movement (Penguin) and Why They Marched: Untold Stories of the Women Who Fought for the Right to Vote (Harvard).

Looking back on June 1919: ‘Lift-off’ for Zonta

By Susanne von Bassewitz, International President

June 1919 was a milestone month for women’s history in the United States. After decades of petitions, silent vigils, hunger strikes and protests, in June 1919, the U.S. Senate passed the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing all American women the right to vote. The amendment would not be fully ratified until 18 August 1920; however, its passage was a victory for women suffragists who had fought tirelessly to be given an equal voice and to be fully recognized as American citizens.

The weeks immediately preceding and following the passing of the 19th Amendment encouraged tens of thousands of women to use their newfound voices. The women who would become the first Zontians had gathered only a few months ago to conceive of a different kind of women’s organization. Soon they would already count some hundred (!) pioneer women who would, on 8 November 1919, form Zonta. In hindsight, the creation of Zonta was an even more remarkable achievement since this organizational effort was made in times of snail mail and a just developing telephone infrastructure.  

I think it’s not exaggerated to say that the successful fight for women’s right to vote was the “lift-off” for Zonta. The drive and admirable energy that our founding sisters felt encourages us to take more bold steps on the road for gender equity.