Consisting of 15 islands and two reefs, Cook Islands is estimated to have a resident population of 11,700. The Cook Islands Government’s approach to gender equality is articulated in its National Policy on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment and Strategic Plan of Action 2011–2016. It focuses on ending violence against women and improving women’s economic empowerment. The National Sustainable Development Plan 2016–2020 includes the intention to increase the representation of women in politics and advance gender equality in the workplace.
Cook Islands has five women in national parliament (17 per cent)VI, including the Speaker of the House. Women are more involved at the island government level in the outer islands than in the past, but participation rates remain low.VII Cook Islands claims the highest rate of women in senior public sector management roles in the Pacific at 48 per cent.VIII
Despite strong labour force participation and the gender pay gap9 narrowing, women tend to earn less than men.IX There is also variation in women’s participation in the labour force between Rarotonga and the outer islands.X
Research indicates that 33 per cent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner at least once in their lifetime.XI The development of coordinated referral services and efforts to improve administrative data collection in key government ministries and non-government organisations have supported progress towards ending violence against women.
Project name: Strengthening capacity towards the elimination of violence against women
Outcome areas: Ending violence against women
Project partner: Ministry of Internal Affairs – Gender and Development Division, Punanga Tauturu Inc., Cook Islands Police
Total funding: $190,000*
Funding timeframe: 2013-2017
The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is a time to galvanise action to end violence against women and girls around the world, including in Cook Islands.
Government and civil society in Cook Islands collaborated to organise a series of activities to mark the 16 Days of Activism at the end of 2016. The campaign was locally developed, led and implemented by the Cook Islands Ministry of Internal Affairs, Punanga Tauturu Inc., Ministry of Police, and the National Council of Women.
Events commenced on 25 November with White Ribbon Day that promotes men and boys speaking out against all forms of violence against women. The Hon. Albert Nicholas, Minister of Internal Affairs, was one man speaking out strongly on the issue:
‘It is too easy to ignore that violence against women exists in our homes and in our community and today is a day where we seek the support of our men and our boys on how to end violence against our women and our girls.’
Other events included cultural shows, a road truck rally around the island, a trade fair, a te-au-vaine (‘my sisters’) market, and a social media campaign to engage the community, in particular men, to end violence against women.
The messages for the media campaign were drawn from the Cook Islands 2014 Family Health and Safety Study. This study provides reliable data on the prevalence and frequency of different types of violence against women. The study found that 32 per cent of ever-partnered women in Cook Islands have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner; and around five per cent of women reported experiencing sexual violence before the age of 15 by a non-partner, most commonly a male family member, friend, or acquaintance.
‘This is not okay’ says Ms Rebecca Buchanan from counselling service Punanga Tauturu Inc. Giving people knowledge about the prevalence of violence against women is a starting point for them to take action. Ms Buchanan acknowledged that the success of getting this message out was due to the joined-up efforts of many people.
‘Without all your support the White Ribbon campaign on the elimination of male violence towards women would not have been as eventful, as it was all about encouraging men to take ownership of this important issue and model good behaviour that can change attitudes.’
Project name: An enabling environment for the full participation of women in economic development
Outcome area: Economic empowerment
Project partner: Ministry of Internal Affairs – Gender and Development Division
Total funding: $590,000*
Funding timeframe: 2013–2017
International Women’s Day is celebrated annually around the world on 8 March. To mark the occasion in 2017, Pacific Women support a two-day Women’s Business Forum in Cook Islands.
The Women’s Business Forum was a collaboration between the Cook Islands Government and local women’s organisations. It was organised by the Cook Islands Ministry of Internal Affairs, the National Council of Women and the Cook Islands Business and Professional Women Association.
The two-day event in Rarotonga attracted around 80 women from across Cook Islands including the outer islands of Aitutaki, Atiu and Mitiaro. The forum was designed to provide information to women interested in business and to showcase the successes of Cook Islands’ women entrepreneurs. Members of the Cook Island Business and Professional Women Association displayed their products in a trade fair. Participants also learnt about a variety of support services that are available to assist women in establishing a business.
The Women’s Business Forum was also an opportunity to explore the barriers women face when participating in business and employment. Women shared their experiences of balancing business with caring responsibilities and the challenges this presents. Other issues raised included the need for better support services for women in business in the outer islands. The Women and Girls with Disabilities organisation also presented a case study on business initiatives.
The former Secretary, Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ms Bredina Drollet, explained that the discussions identified practical solutions to overcoming such challenges with eight recommendations adopted. She noted that the aim of the Women’s Business Forum is to:
‘identify what can individuals and agencies do to make a difference to assist women better access to economic opportunities.’