The busy woman, who has a doctoral degree in business management and public policy, was the founding president of Cook Islands Business and Professional Women’s Association in 1991 and of Punanga Tauturu in 1994.
These positions saw her focusing on her female peers, and looking at their roles and wellbeing in the Cook Islands community issues that were close to Ingram’s heart.
“I remember it was 1990, when I returned home to live in Rarotonga after completing my PhD at Massey University in New Zealand.
“I first approached a number of Cook Island professional women who mostly worked for government, and asked if they would come together to form a women’s organisation.
“I told them that the group would focus on women’s rights, domestic violence, health, equality and the importance of a female political voice.
“We talked about finding ways to raise awareness about these issues and empower our women,” Ingram said.
That was over 25 years ago, and since then, she believes the group, now known as Cook Island Business and Professional Women’s Association (CIBPW) has continued to progress and evolve.
Ingram says her involvement with women’s issues were heavily influenced by her own mother, Poko Ingram, who was elected the first woman Cook Islands MP in 1963.
“I remember her taking me to meetings of the Democratic Party women in the 1960s, which sowed the seeds for what would become an important part of my own journey.
“Starting in the 1970s, I worked with many inspirational, pioneering women leaders from across the Pacific Region.
“One of our notable achievements was convincing the South Pacific Commission leadership, now known as the ‘SP Community’ to focus on the essential role of women in national development.
“As a result, the Women’s Development Programme was established in 1985, to promote advancement of women, improve women’s access to health services, legal and human rights; and economic empowerment of women.
“Despite protests from some of our island men, who called us a bunch of “women’s libbers” and “bra-burners”, we persevered and achieved our goals by supporting each other,” a proud Ingram said.
She said that alongside her fellow “bra-burners” she focused on improving women’s health, ending violence against women, highlighted environmental issues, promoted women in business, looked at political and economic inequality and emphasised the lack of women in parliament and in leadership roles in government department and agencies.
“Following in my mother’s footsteps, I have been driven by the values of feminism and women’s rights, human rights, the rule of law, and good governance.
“I strongly believe that women’s voices should be heard at all levels and that men need to support women’s leadership.
“I believe we have made some progress in improving gender equality in the Cook Islands, but we still have a long way to go.
“I truly believe that the next generation of women have stepped up to take on leadership roles and continue to do good work to support women.
“Many of the daughters of our original CIBPW members are actively involved in community issues,” she said.
Many, like Ingram, believe there are still a number of key issues impacting the Cook Islands community, one of these being violence against women. In the 1990s, Ingram believed it was time to create a safe place for women within the community, where they could seek the relevant help and counselling following domestic violence and abuse.
“In 1992, after a man attacked a young woman asleep in her bed with a large rock, nearly killing her, I rallied the CIBPW members to discuss a strategy to address domestic violence against women and speak out against it.
“We invited the Police Commissioner at the time, Bobby Matapo, and the then Solicitor General, John McFadzien, along with doctors and nurses from the Health Department, to a meeting at the University of South Pacific Centre to talk about the critical issue.
“To our surprise, the meeting was packed.
“We then organised the first march against domestic violence from the courthouse to the police station in Avarua in 1992, with over 500 people joining us.
Key political and community leaders joined us, and we were encouraged by the large turnout, with former prime ministers the late Sir Tom Davis and Sir Geoffrey Henry, as well as cabinet ministers, other MPs and church leaders including Catholic Bishop Robin Leamy. Many children from St Joseph’s School also marched with us.
“I spoke about the need to come together as a community to end violence against women, and Sir Geoffrey encouraged people to help stop violence in our community,” Ingram said.
Punanga Tauturu was registered as a non-profit organisation in 1993, and to this day, it continues to stand up against violence and provide counselling support and legal services to women and children all around the Cook Islands.
“In 2015, they provided services to 165 clients and received 53 client referrals from the police.
“When we began we brought in counsellors and trainers from Hawaii and the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement to help us with domestic violence and human rights training, which I believe was the first time JPs - all men at that time, and the Cook Islands Police Service had undertaken specific training to deal with domestic violence cases.
“We then convinced the Minister of Justice to appoint women Justices of the Peace. The first was Te Tika Matiapo Dorice Reid, and today we have many more,” she said.
In 1993 Ingram withdrew from the CIBPW executive and was later elected the first president of Punanga Tauturu. She served for three years and is still heavily involved today.
“I was encouraged last week to see the whole community, including men, participating in White Ribbon Day– an initiative that raises awareness about this critical issue,” Ingram said.
Now living in Hawaii, Ingram regularly visits Rarotonga, and considers the little slice of paradise her home.
She has high hopes the Cook Islands will continue to empower women, and believes the younger generation is the “future” of the Cook Islands.
“I strongly believe that the future leadership is in the hands of the next generation of professional women, business women, and community leaders.
“I believe we should encourage young women to increase their awareness of feminism, gender and human rights, and inspire them to become articulate leaders and advocates for women.
“I also believe that all our women need to lead the movement to achieve significant political change and increase the number of women in parliament and in ministerial positions.
“Although we have made some progress over the last 50 years, there is still a gender power imbalance in our political system.
“In my view, we need to amend our constitution to reserve seats in parliament for women by establishing a quota system that requires at least 20 per cent of MP positions reserved for women, similar to the system in Samoa. Vanuatu is also committed to reserving seats for women.
“We need to continue developing leadership and advocacy pathways for all women to ensure women’s views, ideas and voices are heard at all levels of decision-making.
“If countries like New Zealand, Australia, Germany, and the UK. can elect women to lead their countries, so can we (Cook Islands).
“I believe a woman can and will become prime minister of the Cook Islands. I would very much like to see this happen during my lifetime and am prepared to help women achieve that goal.
“After all, women are the backbone of our families and our communities.”