Bridgebuilders began when women representing 16 Presbyterian and associated church women’s groups came together at the Bridge Builders Pacific Basin Consultation in February-March 1996 in Auckland. The Consultation was hosted by the National Executive of the Association of Presbyterian Women of Aotearoa New Zealand and convened by Jane Prichard, President of the Association at that time. As the Association had not previously invited women from other countries to meet with them the Consultation was a significant landmark in its history. Women leaders from countries of Asia and the Pacific together with South Africa attended the Consultation. The unanimous decision was taken to establish the Bridgebuilders Network for Presbyterian and associated church women.
The Bridge Builders Pacific Basin Consultation was called as an action outcome from the United Nations Fourth World Women’s Conference in Beijing in September 1995 when the Association of Presbyterian Women was granted observer status. The aim was to implement the Beijing Platform for Action very soon after its adoption, and in particular Paragraph 288 which called for an increase in “linkages between networks and organizations” and “a consistent flow of information between all concerned”.
Because Presbyterian Women had no international body there was an urgent need for women from counterpart organisations in our near neighbor countries to know each other. Only then would we move forward in solidarity to voice our common concerns in the global context. Such matters as renewed nuclear testing in the Pacific, other pressing environmental issues, gender discrimination for women, and peace and justice were some of these. Best practices from our collective organizations as women of faith were shared.
We agreed that a newsletter would be published three times a year to convey issues and concerns, programmes that had worked well for women, meetings of interest, projects that were successful and findings from Christian research on women. Key aims, which remain relevant in 2013, were to serve to spread the Christian faith and to share information and resources. A small committee was set up in Auckland to publish the newsletter for the first three years.
A Steering Committee with seven members representing Asia, the Pacific and Southern Africa was tasked to draw up Daft Guidelines for the Network and to prepare for a further Consultation in 1999. This was held at St Andrews Church in Suva, Fiji. The theme was Women Sharing the light – Join us together and we shall be one in His hand. Jane Prichard convened, Guidelines were adopted and the first Board of Officers elected. The new Board was based at Cape Town, South Africa, under the leadership of Cynthia Pina as President. Two new groups were admitted to membership and the name was changed to Bridgebuilders International to reflect the broader base of network members.
In New Zealand Bridgebuilders achieved incorporation as a charitable body in August 2000. Bridgebuilders is multicultural in its membership, includes women from many organisations and promotes activities for young women. We aim to meet the needs of people. Bridgebuilders takes action to:
Advance Christian faith-sharing and outreach
Identify and be involved with national and global issues
Join together in friendship, share resources and exchange personnel
Raise awareness of women’s right and responsibilities
in a communication system of fast and efficient dialogue within the broad region of the Pacific Basin.
Promoting international understanding as Christian women remains a pillar of our activities. Bridgebuilders seeks to include both Christian and secular women in a network transforming in a spirit of service to ensure that Human Rights are universal; environmental development will be people-centred, sustainable and ecologically sound; and justice and peace are achieved for all people.
Bridgebuilders Programmes in New Zealand have included:
Projects to achieve peace and conflict resolution
Presentations to promote the acceptance of Restorative Justice processes
Support for victims of abuse
Publishing of educational resources for women and parents
Support for refugee and migrant families
Six Consultations have been now held. The fourth was in 2005 in Port Vila, Vanuatu, the fifth in 2008 in Kaohsiung, Taiwan and the sixth in 2011 in Apia, Samoa. The seventh will be held in Auckland 4-8 April in 2014.
In August 2011 a Strategic Plan was developed in Apia. The theme for the Action Plan is Sharing Communication to Build Healthy Families and Healthy Communities. It focuses on Communication; Work with Families; Building Self-Esteem in Women; Breaking the Barrier; Violence against Women; Health; and Education. We encourage all Bridgebuilders International members to take action on its goals during the current triennium 2011-2014 and to report success stories through the newsletter and at the next consultation.