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Focus on equity at women’s event

Friday 10 March 2023 | Written by Matthew Littlewood | Published in Local, National, Politics


Focus on equity at women’s event
Celebrating at the Cook Islands Business and Professional Women (CIBPW) International Women’s Day event were: Alanna Smith, Evangalene Wong, Harriet Tuara, CIBPW president Mata Puia, Niki Rattle and Elizabeth Iro. Photo: Matthew Littlewood/23030918

Equity was on the minds of women at Tamarind House as part of a special event to commemorate International Women’s Day on Wednesday night.

The sold-out event, hosted by Cook Islands Business and Professional Women’s Association, featured five speakers.

The lineup was Alanna Smith (the new director at Te Ipukarea Society), Niki Rattle (Former Speaker for the Cook Islands Parliament and the current Cook Islands Ombudsman), Dr Evangalene Wong (a Clinical Psychologist at Te Marae Ora), Harriet Tuara (Women’s Representative with Cook Islands Rugby Union and U18’s Women’s Development team to NZ) and Elizabeth Iro (former Chief Nursing Officer at the World Health Organization).

Tuara told the audience there was a difference between equity and equality.

“Equality is the assumption that everyone benefits from the same support,” Tuara said. “Equity is making sure everyone gets the support they need.”

Tuara said in sport, equity is about changing the culture and structure of sport.

“Sport has a huge potential to empower women and girls,” she said.

Tuara said last year was a breakthrough year for women’s rugby, particularly thanks to the Women’s Rugby World Cup, which drew a sellout crowd at Eden Park in New Zealand to the final.

But she said there were still examples of stigma towards women playing rugby.

Wong spoke about how discrimination affects us all.

“What if we realise that we are enough, and that supporting women lifts us all up,” Wong said.

Wong said Cook Islands women were more likely to be the victims of crime.

Meanwhile, Rattle spoke about the need for quotas in Parliament to help boost women’s representation.

“Embracing equity is embracing fairness. For me, what I want to see is a House of Parliament, the highest Governance body in our country, to have 50 per cent women and 50 per cent men inclusive of all people and youth,” Rattle said.

Smith spoke about the need to empower women in the Pa Enua.

“I’ve noticed through public consultations TIS has held in the Pa Enua that the men are vocal and speak their views and ask questions, very rarely a woman would speak,” Smith said.

“But behind the scenes the women are very vocal, they have lots of questions and ideas. I know the Pa Enua is very religious and this could be a reason as to why they let the man of the house do the talking publicly.

“But how does a system like that encourage home grown women from the Pa Enua to get into positions of Parliament?”

Smith said “to me equity rings out when I think about our Pa Enua communities”.

“How do we get the same level of support out to our women from the Pa Enua so they too can also feel empowered and challenged.”

Iro spoke about her life in nursing as well as the challenges that Covid-19 put on the nursing professions.

“Reports of burn-out, sickness, intention to leave, and retirement are climbing, as are attacks, abuse and violence against nurses,” Iro said.

“We hear that the rates of mental health illness among health and care workers since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic are spiraling.”

Iro said there was a need to understand these issues better, to act quickly and to provide appropriate support where it is needed.

“Policies that create safe working conditions, with appropriate training, appropriate protective equipment and appropriate pay structures are essential if we are to retain the confidence of our workforce and support them to remain in the profession,” Iro said.