- Cook Islands
The year under review was a pivotal one as the Cook Islands celebrated its fiftieth anniversary of independence. Over the last twelve months, immediate and longer-term concerns have seen old relationships revisited and new ones forged. In this review, particular attention is given to highlighting the leadership of women in advancing the Cook Islands across different sectors and issues as political powers continue to shift and take hold.
Although women are increasingly elected and appointed as parliamentarians, heads of government departments, chairs and directors of statutory bodies and private entities, and customary titleholders, there appears to be little progress made toward transforming the gendered nature of Cook Islands politics. Indeed, despite women’s making up approximately 50 percent of the country’s population and positions held in the public service, their representation remains low across positions of authority and leadership (Ministry of Finance and Economic Management 2012; Ministry of Internal Affairs 2011).
Nevertheless, key appointments have been made this year. Six women were appointed as heads of ministries among the thirteen government departments. They include the first-time appointment of seasoned public servants who have worked their way up the ranks. Tepaeru Herrmann was appointed secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration, and Gail Townsend replaced the retiring secretary of the Ministry of Education, Sharyn Paio. Reappointments included Elizabeth Wright-Koteka as chief of staff for the Office of the Prime Minister, Elizabeth Iro as secretary of the Ministry of Health, Bredina Drollett as secretary of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and Daphne Ringi as chief executive officer of the Office of the Public Service Commissioner (opsc 2015).
This year also saw Teremoana Yala appointed as Cook Islands’ high commissioner to New Zealand. With thirty-five years of public service experience, including fourteen years as a senior official at the Cook Islands High Commission in New Zealand, Yala is very familiar with Cook Islands’ development and diplomatic representation needs (cin, 3 June 2016). Although not the first woman to be appointed to the position, she is the first to take up the office; traditional leader and former head of the Koutu Nui (traditional leaders group) Te Tika Mataiapo Dorice Reid was announced in April 2011 to take up the role but passed away unexpectedly before being able to assume the appointment (cin, 23 June 2011).
A less obvious but nevertheless [End Page 127] noteworthy appointment was also made with Caren Rangi taking up a directorship on the Board of Directors for the Cook Islands Investment Corporation (ciic). Based in New Zealand and with ties to Northern and Southern group islands in the Cooks, she holds a range of community and national level governance roles. She is the national president of pacifica Inc, a pan-Pacific women’s organization in New Zealand, and serves as a board member of the Creative New Zealand Arts Council as well as the Pacific Homecare Services and Charities Registration Board (pacifica Inc 2016). Responsible for the oversight of all government assets including land and a number of state-owned enterprises, ciic makes use of Rangi’s expertise in attending to its affairs. These include the development of seabed minerals and preparation of the contract with the United Nations International Seabed Authority, which gives the country mineral rights to a specified area of its exclusive economic zone, and a joint-venture agreement with gsr (Global Sea Mineral Resources nv). This allows the Belgium-based private company the opportunity to explore and mine the designated area held by the Cook Islands (ciic, 15 July 2016; cin, 26 July 2016). Caren Rangi’s appointment can be seen as a reflection of the government’s openness to looking beyond its geographical boundaries in making use of skilled Cook Islanders to provide expertise for the country.
As an example of Cook Islands women’s leadership outside of the country, Teresa Manarangi-Trott was appointed to the new Specialist Sub-Committee for Regionalism supporting the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat implementation of the Pacific Regionalism framework (cin, 6 May 2015). She provides the committee with a small island states perspective, supported by her private sector and economic development experience. Having served on the Cook...