The last edition of Pacific Women E-News highlighted the work of the Pacific Women’s Parliamentary (PWPP) Partnerships project and its mentoring exchange program (PWPP). One of the main objectives of this program is to establish strategic partnerships between Australian, New Zealand and Pacific parliamentarians that would be beneficial for mentoring, information sharing and skills development.
Since the first Forum, exchanges between Australian MPs and parliamentarians from Palau and Solomon Islands as well as an exchange between a former Australian Speaker and the Speaker of the Cook Islands Parliament have occurred.
While attending the second PWPP Forum in Tonga from 19 to 21 July, Australian MP Anna Burke and Cook Islands Past Immediate Speaker Nikki Rattle, spoke to Pacific Women about their collaborative relationship.
Australian Federal MP and former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Anna Burke and the Past Immediate Speaker of the Cook Islands Parliament Nikki Rattle, have much in common.
Neither thought they would one day become members of parliament. But both women share a passion for enhancing women’s representation in parliament and are engaged in a mentoring relationship under the Pacific Women’s Parliamentary Partnerships (PWPP) mentoring exchange program.
Their relationship is about confidence building, sharing of relevant information/research, identifying barriers and strategizing on effective ways of overcoming them. Discussions also range from making the electoral process more accessible and financially practical.
During the Forum, women candidates openly shared ideas on election campaigning, motivating voters and fundraising, as several Pacific islands countries are preparing for national elections this year.
“A lot of it [the issues] is very basic…I’ve been in Parliament for 16 years, you take it for granted,” shared Ms Burke.
When Ms Rattle was appointed as Speaker of the House in 2012, she was mentored by the Speaker of Parliament in Perth. This involved observing sessions controlled by the Speaker of the House. She also had a similar opportunity in New Zealand.
Ms Burke has also visited Cook Islands to provide support to Ms Rattle, when the latter faced concerns new to her as part of her Speaker duties. They also used this opportunity to strategize on issues yet to be encountered.
“After she left, some of these things [we discussed] popped up during the Sitting and so you have the confidence to be able to deal with it correctly instead of fumbling your way through,” Ms Rattle shared.
Before joining Parliament, Ms Rattle was a nurse and involved with the Red Cross at the international level. After chairing an international Red Cross meeting attended by more than 2000 delegates, including Cook Island’s Prime Minister, Ms Rattle was approached by the PM for the position. The Speaker of the House at the time was unwell.
“I was reluctant at first because it’s to do with politics, but I think if you’re serious about making a difference in your country then you accept the opportunities that come.”
Similarly Ms Burke never wanted to go into parliament, despite being involved in a political party. She was approached when the party wanted a good candidate to represent its values.
“I’ve always referred to myself as the accidental member of parliament. Wrong place. Wrong time. Sixteen years later, I’m still there.”
As for more women candidates in Parliament, both women are optimistic.Throughout the region, women hold senior positions in government and private sector but despite this, the parliament is still viewed as a man’s place.
In almost fifty years of self-governing, only four women have been part of the Cook Islands Parliament at a time. The challenge for Ms Rattle, is to change the way of thinking. In a home, the mother and father raise the family. The nation is like a child that needs both parents to nurture it. “And then we go into the House of Parliament and we completely go out of balance! I think we need to make it happen. Enough thinking!”
Women MPs support women finishing education and getting jobs – there is greater economic prosperity. Women are also in a position to make better laws/policies around issues concerning domestic violence.
“You want parliament to reflect society. Most of our societies are half female. You can’t say parliament is reflecting society if you don’t have women in there,” Ms Burke said.
Both Ms Burke and Ms Rattle see the value of the PWPP project and are committed to building relationships and continuing the dialogue.