Kia orana prime minister, Henry Puna,
We come to you as a collection of concerned, future leaders of the Cook Islands - a beautiful country that we know you love and that you are committed to leading.
At the “Practice Parliament for Women of the Cook Islands” held in honour of International Women’s Day last week, you stood before us and presented a speech about the role and value of women in the Cook Islands.
We appreciate your taking the time to attend this workshop in your capacity as prime minister. We understand that you chose to speak “from the heart,” rather than from prepared speech notes, which is concerning considering the points you raised.
At an event meant to inspire, educate and empower Cook Islands women, we felt that your speech was out of place and left many women feeling disheartened and saddened at the fact that such archaic views were presented by our prime minister.
Much of the event was focused on the very real gender inequality that still affects our vaine Kuki Airani today, the shamefully high number of women who experience violence, and the under-representation of women in politics and other leadership positions.
Your speech opened with the sentiment that “women do not experience gender-based discrimination in the Cook Islands,” or words to that effect.
Although you raised some good points about the progression of women in employment, namely the increasing number of women in senior positions in government, this does not therefore mean that gender-based discrimination does not exist. It is a step forward from the position we occupy at the back of the pack.
Inequalities between genders were made clear when we were provided with solid evidence prior to your speech that there are gender pay disparities, and that females are far more vulnerable to certain crimes and hardships. Furthermore, we only have to look to our under representation of female ministers in parliament to see inequality, hence the very development of such a workshop in the first place.
You mentioned that we need to be careful about what we allow into our country. You used family planning as an example of the “modern world” influencing our way of living where traditionally families in the Cook Islands were made up of about 16 children. In doing so, you directly undermined the freedom and the right of women to make their own choices regarding their career path, their body and their sexuality.
You suggested that the way in which children are currently being disciplined is far too relaxed, and directly correlates to increased crime rates in the Cook Islands. It is recognised that women in the Cook Islands tend to take on the role of mother, homemaker, child-raiser and care giver. You stating that the disciplining of children is somewhat lacking, is a direct rebuke on the women who have given so much and worked so hard to raise and care for their children.
You suggested that “temporary special measures” such as seats in parliament reserved for women would not encourage women to attain a seat in parliament through their own merit, or that somehow it would cheapen the worth of women who receive a seat under such a scheme. We in fact know that years of international research shows that ‘temporary special measures’ increase women’s participation in particular areas such as politics, education and employment in the long term. This is a foot in the door, which is all we ask for.
We respect that you are a man short on time, and needed to be elsewhere immediately following your speech, so we did not have the opportunity to approach you to address our concerns. This letter has been written in order to do so.
We ask for you, prime minister, to meet with the Cook Islands National Youth Council as well as local women’s organisations to clarify your position on the issues mentioned above. We would welcome the opportunity for you to show the leadership and compassion that we know you are capable of.
The Cook Islands National Youth Council
(Name and address supplied)