At the 1995 United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, Asian American and Pacific Islander American women activists at the non-governmental organization (NGO) forums were confronted with two profound realizations.
First, although they were gathered in an Asian country, they had no organized voice for Asian or Pacific Islander women from the United States to participate in the official UN conference.
Second, although each of them as individuals worked long and hard on their respective issues (safety, economic justice, reproductive rights, equal educational access, health, immigrant and refugee rights, civil rights and LGBTQ rights) their work was not linked in any sustained or meaningful way back home in the United States.
Despite the difficult logistics of organizing in a rain-soaked suburb of Beijing, 100 women came together over two caucuses and pledged to build and sustain a national, progressive, multi-issue movement of AAPI women in the United States when they returned home. A year later, in September 1996, 157 women became the founding sisters of NAPAWF at a gathering in Los Angeles.
Those founders had the audacity to think that our voices, our stories, mattered and needed to be heard. Originally, our founding sisters identified a platform of six issues central to NAPAWF’s work: civil rights, economic justice, educational access, ending violence against women, health, and immigrant and refugee rights.
And while we have narrowed our focus, over 20 years later, NAPAWF is still fierce, and we’re still increasing the visibility of AAPI women and girls, amplifying our stories, and building our power to achieve social justice.
At NAPAWF we still believe that our unique stories, perspectives, and struggles are worth fighting for. We believe that building power with AAPI women and girls to create positive change so that we have agency over our lives, families, and communities matters today more than ever. At this critical time in our history, when our basic rights and those of other women of color are under threat, NAPAWF works not just to advance justice and rights, but for transformation. By lifting up our dreams and visions of a world where we have full agency to flourish, we are planting seeds of transformation. And by organizing to build power, we are creating the tools, leaders, and partnerships necessary to transform the world and to realize our vision.
To commemorate our 10th anniversary, in 2006 we commissioned an artist to create imagery to represent and celebrate AAPI women. Our “dancing woman,” as she’s affectionately come to be known, symbolizes AAPI women in motion as well as lifting up our diverse lineage. The movement you see is commonly found in Asian traditional folk dances and demonstrates our build to wholeness.