Representing the Cook Islands were deputy Speaker Rose Toki Brown and fellow MPs Ngamau Munokoa, Selina Napa and Tetangi Matapo and Tekii Lazaro.
A traditional Samoan welcome ceremony was hosted by the Samoan Head of State His Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese. in Samoa’s temporary parliament building, the Samoa sports complex.
“To be able to appropriately manage the many challenges of modern Pacific life we must, as leaders be prepared to build, endorse, promote and sustain a culture of civic learning and critical dialogue that can generate the kind of analytical tools capable of properly recognising our values and beliefs,” he said.
“This is the foundation of any true democracy. Empowering women economically and in their leadership roles is not only a shared regional responsibility but also a local, cultural and ethical one.”
The first woman deputy prime minister of Samoa, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa’ addressed the forum by updating parliamentarians on the implementation of reserved seats for women in Samoa.
In 2013 the Samoan Parliament passed a constitutional amendment that introduced a 10 per cent quota of women representatives in the legislative assembly. The system proposed a “floating” five reserved seats for women. If less than five women are elected through the usual process, the amendment is activated to ensure that five seats are held by women in Parliament.
Mata’afa’ encouraged all women parliamentarians to take the lead and ensure women were not lost at the decision-making level of legislation.
Brown delivered a presentation based on supporting women in the “informal sector” and the issues they face.
She said the Cook Islands government recognised the contributions made by the informal sector to our economy. There were government initiatives to support women in the informal and formal sectors, but there were still plenty of challenges including difficulties accessing finance/credit facilities due to no credit history. There was also limited experience or training in business management /tax systems, the high cost of freight, and other problems including climate change and depopulation.
Brown shared her personal experience along with her husband in starting their business, the challenges they had faced and their contribution to supporting women and men in the informal sectors. She also highlighted the importance of family and community support as well as women supporting women. Munokoa told the forum women parliamentarians we must work hard and be committed to whatever they wanted to do. “If you work hard, you will see the results.” Napa emphasised the issue of climate change as mentioned by earlier speakers as it is badly affecting the entire world.
The forum made it clear that the number of women Parliamentarian is increasing across the Pacific but, women still face many challenges. Negative perceptions of the role of women in public life persist, and violence against women continues.
The forum adopted an outcome statement declaring that it was in the interests of Pacific nations to commit to priority actions identified by delegates.
The Pacific Women Parliamentary Partnerships Forum provides capacity building, and empowers and builds confidence in women MPs.
“Most Pacific Islands share the same views, and all delegates agreed that networking and information sharing is also another important tool to achieving goals,” said Brown. “As parliamentarians we must demonstrate how effective women can be as leaders to ensure that all people have equal access to Economic and Social Development opportunities.
“We must all commit to serving our constituencies and our country. Success comes with commitment, working together and staying focused.”
Members of the Cook Islands delegation thank Aus Aid for fully funding all costs, and the government and the people of Samoa for hosting the forum.