‘We need to continue to commit to helping build an inclusive world’

Saturday 13 March 2021 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Features, Weekend


‘We need to continue to commit to helping build an inclusive world’
Pamela Maru, Lady Tuaine Marsters, Teuru Passfield, Apa Temata, Teherenui Koteka and Lynnsay Francis, shared their experiences at the BPW International Women’s Day dinner on Monday. 21031104.

International Women’s Day (IWD) began in 1911 and was officially adopted by the United Nations (UN) in 1975. It is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. On Monday the local women groups celebrated the event with presentations from six inspirational members who spoke on the theme #ChooseToChallenge.

One hundred and twenty women attended the Cook Islands Business and Professional Women’s Association’s (BPW) International Women’s Day dinner on Monday evening at the Muri Beach Club Hotel.

On the night six amazing women: Pamela Maru, Lady Tuaine Marsters, Teuru Passfield, Apa Temata, Teherenui Koteka and Lynnsay Francis shared their experiences and challenges.

Business and Professional Women’s Association president Eva Allsworth opened the occasion, paying tribute to the women of the country and “our sisterhood” worldwide.

“We can and must all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can and must all choose to seek out and celebrate women's achievements. We can and must all help create an inclusive world that women, and men, here and worldwide have so courageously fought to achieve in big ways and small. From challenge comes change,” said Allsworth

“Much has been achieved over the years however, unfortunately there is still much to be done. We need to continue to commit to helping build an inclusive world. A world of gender parity. A world where women are in all the places where decisions are made. And we, here in our wonderful little nation that punches above its weight in so many ways, all have a part to play in achieving that goal.”

The dedicated executive of BPW including vice president Debi Futter-Puati, secretary Erin Mitchell wore the International Women’s Day colours of purple representing justice and dignity, green for hope and white for peace. The other executive members Liana Scott, Anna and Pauline were overseas.

BPW president Eva Allsworth, Pa Marie Ariki, BPW vice president Debi Futter-Puati, Apa Temata and BPW secretary Erin Mitchell. 21031102.

Speaking on the night, Futter-Puati said: “We are all extremely privileged to have such a line-up of extraordinary Cook Islands Vaine Toa on the night.”

“Each and every woman in this room is a Vaine Toa in her own right, and each and every one of us contribute in multiple ways to this community we live in.

“And nobody gets to be an adult without facing challenges. It comes with this deal we call life.

“I would like you to just take a moment and salute yourself for coping when times were a struggle. Think of the people that you know you can go to for support if and when you need it.”

She encouraged women to be challenged.

The price of the meal tickets was reduced due to the kind sponsorship from the Bank of the Cook Islands (BCI) – “a long-time sponsor in many ways”.

The Bank encourages women in the workforce and this is evidently demonstrated – the organisation has a female chairperson, 67 per cent female board members, and a female chief executive officer Vaine Nooana-Arioka.

“We are tremendously fortunate to be an impactful organisation, and to support BPW in their series of events this year is a great honour,” Nooana-Arioka said.  

“We congratulate Eva Allsworth and the entire executive of BPW for organising this event and thank the phenomenal women who spoke on the night. All inspirational, all humble, all with still so much more to give and for us to learn from.

“It is essential to celebrate individuals and uplift others constantly.  International Women’s Day gives us the opportunity to focus that recognition on Women specifically and remind us of all that women have achieved, as well as motivate and inspire us for all that we are yet to achieve together.”

Te Tiare Association dance troupe performed on the night. 21031107.

Local LGBTI group, Te Tiare Association’s dance group of courageous trans-women performed vibrantly at the event as did inspiring young performance poet Teherenui Koteka who, the patron of BPW Helen Henry noted, “is one of the young generations of torch bearers bravely and unapologetically taking the challenge-to-choose into the future”.

Apa Temata has a passion for indigenous health, LGQTBI/Pasefika Rainbow group, social justice, equity and equality, advocacy and activism that spans over 30 years.

Temata is a survivor of family violence.

“However traumatic my past has been, it has also shaped me in so many ways I cannot fathom.

“I am honoured to have shared my journey with so many other inspiring vaine toa who have supported, empowered and enabled me to be who I am now… especially my mother.”

Temata is the current charge nurse for Te Marae Ora Ministry of Health Outpatients Emergency Department in Rarotonga and oversees the emergency, trauma services including our emergency response and preparedness to Covid-19 in the Cook Islands.

Her experience also branches out to different sectors of health care, leadership, governance and community particularly in Pacific/Maori and indigenous health.

Temata’s skills and experience extends to emergency and trauma services, sexual health - HIV, sexual assault and family violence services.

Women at the BPW International Women’s Day dinner on Monday held at the Muri Beach Club Hotel. 21031106.

“I am passionate about health in all its different areas, with a keen interest in public health and policy, politics, particularly the socio-political influences on health and the impact of globalisation to our whenua (land), our moana (sea/ocean) and iti tangata (people).”

Temata has worn “different hats” in the roles of clinical expertise that include: current president for Cook Islands Nurses Association Aotearoa in NZ/Australia, advisory member for Cook Islands Health network – established by the late Dr Joe Williams, former chair for NZ Nurses Organisation (NZNO) for two years, Auckland and Waitemata DHB Pacific senior clinical nurse advisor.

Temata worked and volunteered in the Rainbow LGQTBI space for most of her life as an out and proud Aka Tane/Vaine – non-binary/Takatatapui wahine.

And has led the coordination for Oceania Pride Aotearoa and Pasefika Pride 2014 – 2021, to advocate and push for awareness and support for equal rights i.e. decriminalisation of the existing homosexuality bill in the Cook Islands and across the Pacific.

Temata has spoken against stigma, discrimination and institutional racism that exists across the many sectors.

She has also received the following awards: Ministry of Health NZ Volunteer Award 2018, Kiwi Bank New Zealander of the Year Local Hero Award 2019 recipient and the prestigious NZNO National Services Award for Nursing and Midwifery 2016.

Here’s the profiles of other speakers:

Lady Tuaine Marsters is a Director at Ora-Partners Trust Company, a Director on the Cook Islands Pharmaceutical Board, Officer of Public Notary, the Patroness for Girl Guides and Te Tiare the LGBTQI organisation (Rainbow Community) and for the Miss Cook Islands Pageant.

Tuaine holds an LLB from the University of Wollongong, Commercial Credentials from Massey University and Post Graduate Diploma in International Affairs from the University of the South Pacific (USP).

Besides all of these responsibilities Lady Marsters is also the wife of Queen’s Representative Sir Tom Marsters for 46 years; she is a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother.

She is a gold medallist golfer, and in 1973 as a member of the Cook Islands National Arts Theatre she attended the opening of the Sydney Opera House.

Teuru Passfield was born in Rarotonga, and is proud to have attended Takitumu Primary School, Titikaveka College, Tereora College as well as schools in Samoa and Thailand.

After Tereora, Teuru worked three jobs with the goal to save enough to travel – during which time she had hoped to figure out what to do with her life.

Instead, she spent the next two years spending, borrowing, and paying back money, before finally realising she just needed to get started.

Being surrounded by the ocean, and loving oe vaka, she decided a Bachelor of Science in Marine and Coastal Ecology would be a good starting point.

Since then, with the unwavering support of her family, Teuru has worked in a number of roles across government and civil society; brought a wonderful little girl into the world; represented the Cook Islands in paddling; and completed a Masters in Conservation Leadership from the University of Cambridge, UK.

Pamela Maru is the Secretary for the Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR), since 2019.

Her key goal is to broaden the horizon of other Cook Islanders in the fisheries world, ensuring that opportunities that were provided to her are also made available to others.

With a background in marine science, Pam started her career in 2001 with MMR working in environmental monitoring and coastal fisheries management before deciding to work in the offshore fisheries sector on fisheries science and research.

From 2009 she was the vice-chair of the Scientific Committee for the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission.

In 2012, Pam was appointed as a Fisheries Management Adviser at the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) in the Solomon Islands. Her role included the provision of technical and policy advice for tuna fisheries management and compliance to Pacific Island countries at the national, sub-regional and regional levels.

Pam is a passionate advocate for the rights of coastal states and small island developing states, and is proud to be working in an area that provides real benefits led by Pacific islanders, for Pacific islanders.

Lynnsay Rongokea is a human rights and political activist and land advocate.

In 1991 she was a founding member of Punanga Tauturu Inc to provide support to women and children survivors of violence.

She was a co-founder of the Group for Political Change and has served on multiple committees such as the Cook Islands Tourist Board, the Cook Islands Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, and as the chair of the Social Impact Fund.

At the regional level she has worked as the community development advisor and chief trainer for the Pacific Human Rights Resource team and was the Pacific representative on the Asia Pacific Women Law and Development (APWLD) Violence Against Women Task Force.

Rongokea has coordinated and facilitated the annual regional consultations with the UN on Violence against Women and the on Indigenous Peoples Rights, Migrant Workers and Modern Day Slavery.

Her work and commitment to women’s human rights and access to justice has been recognised nationally and regionally.

In 2008 to mark the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, she was one of four Pacific people to be honoured with the Pacific Human Rights Award, received in special recognition for her long-standing support for the rights of women.

In 2000, Lynnsay received the CIBPW award in the category of Woman in International Affairs. In 2004 she won the prestigious New Zealand Montana Book Awards for her book 

Her book, Tivaevae: Portraits of Cook Islands Quilting, was shortlisted for the New Zealand Watties Book of the Year.

In 2019 she was a recipient of the Vaine Rangatira Inaugural Awards – Te Maeva Nui NZ - International Affairs and in 2020 Woman of the Month recipient.

Rongokea, a single mother raised five high achieving daughters and is now a nurturing grandmother and great-grandmother.

Teherenui Koteka was born on Rarotonga and is a graduate of Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington’s Theatre, Film, and Media Studies programmes.

She chooses to challenge through her art. Her piece Toku Ivi, Toku Kiko, Toku Toto premiered at the New Zealand Festival of Solo Performance 2020.

Through this work, Teherenui brings to the forefront the under-represented voice of young Pasifika women. She weaves the traditions of her ancestors with the experiences of modern Pasifika youth to create work that encourages her people to engage in conversation surrounding sex-negative culture and pushing people to challenge the status-quo.