THE Hong Kong Federation of Women was only inaugurated three months ago, yet it is on its way to becoming the most influential women's group in the territory, having attracted some of the most powerful and wealthiest women among its 600 members. People have not been kind to the Federation of Women, chaired by Legislative Councillor Peggy Lam. It has been called the tai-tai group because it has the wives of leading tycoons among its members, and a ''second stove'' because of suspicions that it is Beijing's way of winning the loyalty of Hong Kong women. Mrs Lam, a delegate of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Committee and a Hong Kong adviser to Beijing, is adamant that it is neither, and insists that the federation is apolitical. According to its constitution, its priority is to unite women from all walks of life to make them concerned about Hong Kong affairs, to support the Basic Law and Sino-British Joint Declaration to ensure a smooth transition in 1997, and to maintain the stability and prosperity of the territory. For Mrs Lam, this is simply giving voice to what the women of Hong Kong want above all else: a stable future in which they can live happy and prosperous family lives. It has nothing to do with following Beijing. ''Without prosperity and stability, Hong Kong women can't have a stable life,'' she said. ''It is not fair to say we are pro-China or pro-Britain. We think we are pro-Hong Kong. We are Chinese. It is very difficult to separate being Chinese and China. We are for Hong Kong's women, for Hong Kong's children, for Hong Kong's future, and we want to be friends with everybody. ''We need to convince our members that we have to have confidence and faith in the future, because the Sino-British agreement says that there will be a smooth transition, and no change for 50 years. We have a lot of convincing and educating to do.'' Mrs Lam said the federation was not instigated by Beijing, but grew out of discussions with friends and housewives from the grassroots community in Wan Chai. ''What we are doing is following the wishes of Hong Kong women,'' she said. ''They said that what they were most interested in was a smooth transition, a peaceful life, that they would like to live in a place where they could earn a living and have a stable and prosperous life. This inspired me to set up an organisation to uniteall women for this purpose.'' ''For most housewives, the first thing that comes to their minds is their family: a happy, peaceful and prosperous family life. This is the most important thing.'' The federation's philosophy is reflected in its logo, a silhouette of Hong Kong with the Bank of China in the centre, underpinned by a wave representing women. ''We are like a wave, wanting to push, to improve. The colour is mainly pink, a colour women like.'' The federation has equipped itself to be a powerful voice among women, headed by leading political and professional women, funded by wives of the richest men in the territory, and supported by a large number of women at grassroots level. What is missing is the participation of women activist groups such as the Association for the Advancement of Feminism (AAF) and the Women Workers' Association. Only a handful of women activists have joined, the most prominent being Dr Fanny Cheung, president of the Hong Kong Federation of Women's Centres and Chinese University senior lecturer in psychology. Trini Leung, a member of the AAF, said: ''This federation is very obviously a mass organisation of the Chinese Communist Party, a United Front organisation.'' Beijing would use it to influence women in the same way as the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions (FTU) influenced workers and new student unions influenced students. Shum Yun-shan, executive secretary of the Hong Kong Women's Christian Council, said she and other women activists she worked with had not been invited to join the new group. ''We feel surprised at how the group has been formed,'' she said. ''We wonder if they will really do work for women's issues. Their members have not been involved in grassroots women's issues.'' She added that her council would consider co-operating with the federation on certain issues. Tsang Gar-yin, executive secretary of AAF, said one AAF official had been invited to join as an individual, but not as a representative of the group. ''In the end, we did not join on the basis that we did not agree with its priorities as stated in their constitution, the first one to support the Basic Law. We think the most important objective should be to advance women's rights and status in Hong Kong.'' Ms Tsang said most of the federation's grassroots support came from pro-China women's groups in the New Territories. She is not concerned about the federation. ''Hong Kong is a pluralistic society. Everyone is free to set up their own group, with its own ideology. Our position is to see what basis there is for co-operation and communication,'' she said. With sponsorship from Li Ka-shing and a string of mainland Chinese companies in the territory such as China Travel Service, China Resources and Guangdong Enterprises, the federation has been able to buy 1,000 square feet of office space in Wan Chai that would be the envy of any independent women's group. ''The Chinese companies have been more generous than the others,'' Mrs Lam said. She insisted such support did not mean the federation was a United Front organisation. She pointed to the fact that guests of honour at the federation's inauguration included Elizabeth Wong, secretary for Health and Welfare, as well as Wong Guo, wife of Zhou Nan, the director of the New China News Agency. ''We want the blessing of both the existing and future governments,'' said Mrs Lam. The Federation of Women was launched with $10 million raised from its prestigious list of more than 50 members who have earned themselves the title of honorary president by donating more than $200,000 and honorary vice-president by donating more than $100,000. Heading the list are: Fok Fong Kin-nei, wife of Henry Fok, and Tsang Wong Lei-kuan, wife of Goldlion chairman Tsang Hin-chi, a deputy of the National People's Congress and member of the Preliminary Working Committee (PWC), who each donated $1 million. Mrs Tsang is one of the federation's vice-chairmen. Mrs Lam welcomes such support and said the federation sought to recruit more honorary presidents and vice-presidents. ''Women who have money donate money, women who have energy donate energy. Nowadays women have to help each other. They cannot depend on others.'' Other prominent members include former Legco and Exco member Rita Fan, who is a vice-chairman, and former Legislative Councillor Nellie Fong, who chairs its research sub-committee. Both are PWC members. Chan Yuen-han, a candidate put up by the pro-Beijing Federation of Trade Unions in the last Legislative Council elections and member of the FTU's standing committee, chairs the branch development sub-committee. The federation is now looking to expand its membership and is seeking a chief executive to take care of day-to-day administration. A membership drive will be launched after Chinese New Year. The membership fee has been kept low, just $50 with a $50 joining fee, to attract a broad membership. ''Any woman can join, as long as she agrees with our objectives,'' Mrs Lam said. ''We hope we can have more corporate members so we can absorb their ideas and represent more women. Of course, we hope to represent the majority of women, but that depends on whether Hong Kong women want us to represent them,'' she said. All 11 of its corporate members are district women's associations, apart from the Girl Guides Association and the Hong Kong Chinese Women's Club. The federation is now launching its first programmes that will mark it as an active welfare and women's organisation. They include re-training programmes to help women return to work, and a Cantonese Opera programme to bring cheer to women in hospital over Chinese New Year. There will also be an event for under-privileged children in the summer. The first re-training courses will include computer training and Putonghua language courses. Women had indicated that they could use computer skills at home, to replace piecework now carried out in factories across the border. Another plan was to set up neighbourhood centres where women could help each other and look after their children so that they could go to work. The federation would collaborate with other organisations, including Government bodies such as the re-training board, to promote services for women, Mrs Lam said. ''I am a person who wants to be involved in action. I would rather we have more programmes than talking.'' ''One of the differences between our federation and other women's organisations is that we would like to provide more welfare and services for our members. Most of our members are from the grassroots,'' she said. ''After women join us they get a membership card which entitles them to discounts, from shops and doctors, for example.'' Businesswomen involved in the federation had organised the discounts. Mrs Lam distances herself from the feminist movement, though she said the difference was one of style. ''We are not a feminist organisation. But we welcome feminists to join us.'' She may dislike the campaigning style of the feminist movement, but says she has been working for women all her life. She has been involved in women's organisations, and promoting the development of women through her work as former director of the Hong Kong Family Planning Association, for decades, and has been chairman and president of the Chinese Women's Club, and area director of the Zonta Club. Mrs Lam recently took the initiative in the women's agenda by proposing a motion in Legco that CEDAW be ratified, and a women's commission set up. She said that most existing women's organisations catered for specific groups, such as professional women or women living in particular districts. ''They all work independently. They do not liaise. We want to unite all women to fight for women's rights. We want to involve all women's organisations to work towards one goal.'' She said most members came from the grassroots, but said that the aim was to appeal to women from any sector. Dr Fanny Cheung said she was not an active member of the federation. ''I am participating because I think there is a benefit to having a large network of women from all walks of life,'' she said.