As the first woman to serve as New Zealand’s High Commissioner to the Cook Islands, Linda Te Puni is a person of particular interest to local women’s rights advocates.
In her address to PPSEAWA (Pan-Pacific and Southeast Asia Women’s Association) last week, Te Puni discussed her background as a career diplomat and highlighted gender issues in the Pacific.
Before becoming a diplomat, Te Puni already had some overseas experience under her belt - seven months cutting fish in Iceland, 10 picking oranges in Israel, a stint working in the pubs of London. She moved to Rarotonga last year, but prior to that was posted with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Honiara, Samoa, Ottawa, Mexico, London, Paris, Suva and Wellington.
She said in her address that while being a diplomat means being away from family and constantly re-establishing her home base, it is a job with ‘more pluses’ than minuses.
“I am proud to be the first woman appointed to this role, and especially so as a Maori woman given our historical links,” Te Puni told PPSEAWA last week.
In light of Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Malielegaoi’s recent reference to his government having “more than enough” women representatives, Te Puni touched on the under-representation of women in Pacific governments.
“From where I sit I guess the most compelling issue or notable absence if I can put it that way is the lack of any women in Cabinet and low representation of women in parliament...the Cook Islands is of course not alone in the disproportioned level of representation of women in parliament as this is a phenomenon we see elsewhere in the Pacific,” she said.
Tonga, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Federated States of Micronesia have no women representatives and the Cook Islands, Vanuatu, Marshall Islands and Papua New Guinea have just one.
She regretted that while there are plenty of intelligent, capable women in the Cook Islands, there is still a pronounced lack of female representation in government.
Since the Cook Islands started governing itself in 1965, women have run for parliament 39 times and been successfully elected 10 times. Presently, Ngamau ‘Aunty Mau’ Munokoa is the only female member of parliament.
“My own observations during my posting here are that there is no shortage of strong, capable women who can step up to anything, from business leaders to public servants, heads of ministries, consultants, the women who stand beside, not behind, the male members of parliament, to church, community and traditional leaders, to sportswomen...I am in awe of you, as you juggle so much in your lives and are brilliant examples of the female brain’s capacity to multitask,” she said.