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RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Mar. 5) – Cook Islands political activist and businesswoman Elizabeth Ponga says she accepted the Woman Of The Year award last week for each nominee and for every woman that had fought for a change in the community.

Ponga is a founder of the Group for Political Change, which was formed in 2002 to push for political reforms.

"Now I do not know what is happening with political reform because the election is just around the corner and parliament is not sitting, so I really am not sure as to what will happen next regarding the reforms," she said.

Her group slammed government undersecretaries, saying their positions should be abolished instead of waiting for the next election.

Ponga said if the government was genuine about it "then it should be so easy to have those positions abolished."

Business and Professional Women's Association president Dawn Baudinet says Ponga was deserving of her award.

"It's her gutsiness and strength and the value of what she does, and with her business, she is hugely respected," she says. "Elizabeth is a fighter, she can tackle anything that is put in front of her head on, but not without doing her homework first, she does her research, doesn't let herself down or compromise herself with her business."

Many of the nominees for the 2003 BPW awards were from the outer islands, but were unable to attend the occasion. "These women were enormously represented," says Baudinet.

"It is very good encouragement, we were overwhelmed and proud that these women are now breaking through their own barriers," she says. "That's an absolute strength in itself, as in the past women in the outer islands were sometimes very shy."

TVNZ One news reporter Barbara Dreaver was flown in by Air New Zealand as guest speaker for the night. Baudinet says BPW want to see the awards continue next year.

"Without sponsorship from the private sector who have been incredibly generous, the awards may not have taken place. "It is important that we continue the awards for women of the Cook Islands."

The women of the year nominees were as follows: Mary Raui, Paula Maoate - Aitutaki, Niki Rattle, Tangata Nekeare Aupini - Mitiaro, Tearuru Carl Marsters - Aitutaki, Neti Tamarua Herrmann, Sue Ngatokorua - Mangaia, Aretiare Tokai - Mitiaro, Elizabeth Ponga, Aisne Williams - Aitutaki, Paio Short, Toru Ngatoko-Van Dongen - Mitiaro, Kathy Koteka, Ngariki e tini Tuaati Keu - Mauke, Selina Matenga-Napa, Lillian Matareka-Grubnau - Penrhyn, Tarome Solomona - Manihiki, Hillary Kae - Atiu and Matatu Ngatuakana - Mitiaro. - ME/UKM

March 11, 2004

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