By Ulrike Siddiqi
[PPSEAWA.ORG] - In the upsurge of efforts to spread international understanding after World War I, credit must be given to the men of the Pan-Pacific Union headquartered in Honolulu, Hawaii when in 1925 they started to plan for a unique women’s organization within the Pan-Pacific Region.
It was to address “ …all matters of interest to women”, to learn from each other via exchange of life experiences, different cultures, and to bring them together in direct conversations. These women would build friendships, understanding and ultimately become a peaceful force in the Pacific region.
It took the Honolulu based Pan-Pacific Union three years to select, encourage and invite the participants. The trips had to be made by steam boats and called for a long absence from home. From Australia, Canada, China, Fiji, Japan, Java, New Zealand, the Philippine Islands, United States of America, and both American and British Samoa, 183 Delegates answered the call.
In August of 1928, for the opening of the Conference, the Mid-Pacific Magazine, the journal of the Pacific Union, published a special “Pan-Pacific Women’s Conference Edition” to report the events of the First International Women’s Conference.
Ms. Jane Addams of Hull House in Chicago presided. As the Honorary Chairperson of the Conference she was the most well known amongst the invitees. Her immense contributions to the success of the conference and her life time work for social change and peace world wide have been praised on multiple occasions by PPSEAWA women and scholars. In 1931, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Altogether, three hundred and thirty eight women attended this ten day event – doctors, nurses, scientists, teachers, social workers and social activists, support staffers, students from the University of Hawaii and Territorial representatives. The country representatives communicated in English, aided by several local interpreters.
The women promised to continue their new found conversations and again met in Honolulu in August of 1930 when the Association was formally adopted by its members and officially incorporated independently of the Pacific Union. Its first elected International President was Dr. Georgina Sweet from Australia, while the first International Secretary was Miss Ann Satterthwaite of Hawaii.
At this second conference the newly formed association also adopted its Constitution, stating the following mission for its existence:
“To strengthen the bonds of peace among Pacific peoples by promoting a better understanding and friendship among the women of all Pacific countries; To initiate and promote cooperation among women of the Pacific region for study and betterment of existing conditions”.
Throughout its history the organization and its national affiliates have remained truthful to this mission statement and have sought - as a non political force - to be an agent of change in the status of women, inspiring peaceful cooperation in the region and expanding their local programs to related regional issues.
After World War II, in 1949, the groups reconvened - again in Hawaii and gained consultative status at the newborn United Nations and elected its first representative.
In 1955, in Manila, Philippines, the organization voted to rename itself Pan Pacific and Southeast Asia Women’s Association to more accurately reflect its expanded membership and the region it embraces.
As the organization grew its membership in the Pacific Region, chapters opened in the USA as well. While Hawaii, a U.S. Trust Territory - joined the United States in 1959, as her 50th State, PPSEAWA Hawaii has maintained its independent status, as the founder of the organization, granted by the International Council.