At just 16, Hereiti File is already an advocate for the health and equality rights for women and girls.
About 5600 people around the world applied for the Young Women Deliver programme; the Tereora College student is one of 300 successful girls and young women who were successful.
She follows in big footsteps: her inspiring grandmother Rongo File volunteers at the Cook Islands Family Welfare Association and was a founder of Punanga Tauturu counselling organisations; her mother Tamara File is now chairperson of Punanga Tauturu.
Hereiti says her grandmother encouraged her to apply for the programme.
“She said I would be okay. She has been to conferences and meetings related to this and I knew what it would be about.”
How did she first react?
Hereiti was in the school computer lab when she received an email accepting her application.
“I was extremely surprised. I was in the middle of class, and I checked my email briefly and I saw that and stared at it for a long time. No one in my class knew I applied and I really didn’t know how to tell anybody.”
She went home that afternoon excited to tell her mother – but her proud grandmother had already announced the news!
Why gender equality?
There was a range of topics they could apply for, and she chose gender equality, because this is an area where she believes Cook Islands and the world still have a lot more work to do.
“The family I have grown up in, they work in a lot of human rights areas, and those values are what I feel close to and so the programme felt like I was just being myself because gender equality is something I believe in and it is an issue all over the world.
“All over the world equality between genders, races and ages is all very skewed.”
Hereiti said it was sad that women had to limit their choices because others viewed them as unimportant or didn’t treat them with respect, or see they could hold better positions in a workplace.
Cook Islands was not perfect and more gender equality was important: “There is this thing in schools where typically those who have good marks were females, the girls are typically the smarter ones. But when these girls go out into the outside world or look for jobs here, it is not reflected.
“There is a still mindset here that women should not look for jobs outside of their homes. Even though some people are progressive, it does not mean everyone is progressing.”
Is she aiming for politics?
No, Hereiti does not see herself in politics in the next 10 years. She believes politics is a difficult career because MPs have to watch everything they do and say in the public eye.
In the next five years she sees herself graduating university with a psychology major and whatever opportunity she gets, she will evaluate them and take it.
Whether it’s clinical psychology or not, mental health is a topic she thinks needs to be talked about more.
“There is this stigma surrounding mental health and people don’t really talk about mental health. We need to talk about it more.”
What is the Young Women Deliver programme?
It’s a two-year course, where they have online programmes and have to come with a project that they need to implement in the community. At the end, they attend a conference where the 300 youths share what they’ve learned and take part in workshops.
Hereiti is confident, in taking on the challenge, that she can balance her studies. She hopes to be a role model for the young women of the Cook Islands.
“This programme will help me bring about change for young women here and I encourage young women to think about doing something they enjoy and passionate about and it’s up to you to motivate yourself, whether it’s sport or art.”