Cook Islands Speaker Pushes For More Women In Parliament

Niki Rattle: 'Better is not good enough. We need to be excellent'

By Melody Cargill 

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Jan. 16, 2017) – It is a new year and the Speaker of Parliament Niki Rattle wants to shake the Cook Islands up a bit.

Well, quite a lot really.

And the matter that Rattle is determined to pursue is the lack of women in our parliament.

Women in leadership roles has become a big issue in discussions between small Pacific Islands states and while the Cook Islands has a good balanced representation at global meetings that does not translate at home.

“We are getting better,” Rattle says, “but better is not good enough. We need to be excellent. My view is we have a half population of women and why should leadership not be equally shared?”

Rattle smiles with a slight hint of exasperation and says: “Every time someone hears about gender it’s ‘about women again’.

“But it’s not about women again - it is about equality, walking side by side. It’s about people.

“For years I’ve been trying to work this out. I see in a home a mother and father and their children. And I think about the nation as that child with a woman and a man in parliament nurturing the nation, just like in a home.

“And they nurture that child – the softness of the mother and dad’s discipline. You bring your child up together the best you can.”

Then she smiles, but her eyes are serious: “When we get into parliament – the biggest decision making area of the country - we seem to lose balance.

“Where’s the voice of the woman that’s so important to balance things out. In parliament male domination is accepted. We accept it to be okay and yet, in our homes, we expect the woman to be beside the man.

“Where does that break down and why?”

Rattle says it is time the attitudes changed.

“I would like to see more women. We are not saying women are better than men, we’re just saying two of them together get a better result. It’s a stronger unit. And so it must be something we should look at.”

The Speaker says a lot of it comes down to education, and culture, and traditional thinking.

“We’ve always said parliament is for men. It’s a man’s world, but I think we need to change the way we think about those things.”

She says there are lots of women leaders in place in government service and organisations, “and that’s by consciously thinking” about putting women there.

“People have to consciously think about it, because then that changes the way people think - otherwise if we just follow suit then nothing will change.”

Rattle says two recent select committees on Purse Seine Fishing and the Te Mato Vai petitions initially had no female MPs names on them.

“It was all male MPs.”

With the fishing one, they said: “But, minister, it’s about fishing. I said so? Are you telling me women don’t know anything about fishing?”

Women MPs were placed on the committee.

“It was the same thing with the Te Mato Vai petition. It had no female member names on its Select Committee listing. We had women put on that list as they are experts in the use of water in the home for the welfare of the family.’’

 Rattle says: “It’s little things like that you can change that will grow into bigger things. It’s making that gentle infiltration of that thinking.

“I take responsibility for doing something. I’m in this space right now. Where things can be done, I’m going to do what I can.”

She says when organising overseas trips, “we always make sure we send a balanced gender team”.

“If you start doing the little things then it will grow, because people will get used to it.

“It’s consciously doing it. It’s too easy to just not do anything about it. Oh don’t worry about it. It won’t matter.”

But to Rattle it does matter…deeply.

At the moment there are four female members of parliament out of 24 and she wants to see that representation increase.

“When I was in Fiji we had a regional meeting on the same issues and Samoa presented on their quota system. And we’ve talked about it here. But the women say ‘we just want to stand and get in our own merit’.

“I say, oh come on you can’t tell me that many who have stood for parliament here don’t have the merit?

“Fifty-one years we’ve been in self-government and still the highest number of women who have sat in parliament is five, and that’s with me as a non-member. Otherwise it’s four. That’s about our limit, then we go down again to two or three.

“In the Cook Islands I really do think something different needs to happen.”

There was a comment made at the Fiji workshop that clearly displeased her. One of the men said there could be more female MPs “once they’ve proven themselves”.

“Why do women have to prove themselves? Men don’t have to prove themselves, so why does a woman?”

Cook Islands News
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