12 February 2013
A forum in Sydney over the weekend investigated ways to get more women into Parliaments across the Pacific. The Speaker of Cooks Islands Parliament, Niki Rattle says its getting women elected is tough and some form of positive discrimination is necessary. The forum was part of the $320 million AusAID program announced last year at the Pacific Forum by the Prime Minister Julia Gillard and outgoing US secretary of State Hilary Clinton.
Listen to the interview with ABC Radio Australia online: Cooks speaker says positive discrimination needed in male dominated society (Credit: ABC)
Presenter: Geraldine Coutts
Speaker: Niki Rattle, Speaker, Cooks Islands Parliament
PHOTO: Women parliamentarians and candidates from across the Pacific joined Australian female MPs in Sydney on 9 & 10 February to attend the Pacific Women’s Parliamentary Partnerships forum. Photo: Fiona Way/AusAID
RATTLE: The very first Speaker of the Cook Islands when it started many years ago was a female, and then a few years ago we had a deputy speaker female. And so I started last June as the Speaker. But previous, in-between those long periods men have carried that post.
COUTTS: And do women or are you doing it differently, do you take a different approach?
RATTLE: I think women do look at things differently, take a different approach. I mean just your actual, how you see things, how you address people, how you control the meeting I think there is a difference in the way it's done with maybe with the language you use, the tone of voice, it's very important that as a Speaker that you are impartial with your behaviour in parliament. And that's what I aspire to as being impartial for all the members in parliament and not taking sides with anybody, and taking every speaker, every member of parliament who speaks, taking all of their concerns on board as an individual member, rather than he comes from a party or he comes from a certain place. But making sure that as he speaks for the people whose voted for him, that those concerns are taken on board very carefully.
COUTTS: How would you describe your style? Would you describe yourself as a tough Speaker?
RATTLE: I'm very straight, I'm not afraid to make a ruling where I see that that's the right thing to do. Considering I'm very new and standing orders are something that I've given a lot of time to learn. But I think reading standing orders is quite different to when the real thing happens in parliament. And I'm not afraid to stop and check that the ruling is going to be the right one, and when you do make the wrong rulings for some reason with advice of course as well, I'm not afraid to go back and say look this is what I said, and in actual fact after seeking advice and after looking back, this is really what we should have done. And let it be known that if I do make a mistake I'm not afraid to do it. But I stand firm on what I believe is the right thing as well.
COUTTS: Well Speaker Rattle from the Cook Islands we are here to discuss a forum that's taken place in Sydney trying to get more women into parliaments across the Pacific. How did you get into parliament and is it tough for females in the Cook Islands?
RATTLE: Well it is tough for females in the Cook Islands to stand because culturally this has been a man's role to be a member of parliament. And even though women have stood for elections, they've come forward and put their names in and stood for to make a change, it's been very difficult because culturally the people think that this is a man's role. But over the years we've done a lot of training courses on gender equality through the arm of the government that's responsible for that. And civil society groups have done that as well. It still remains predominantly a man's role. So I really believe that there's got to be some extra measures put in place, and there's been some talk about temporary special measures to give women a good head start. But of course we've had up to four women at a time in parliament and just recently as of late last year we introduced a new member, a woman, and also just a few weeks ago we've introduced another woman. And so there are three female members of parliament now, and as far as my role is concerned, I was actually appointed by the Prime Minister and seconded by the leader of the opposition and voted in in parliament, and the legislation allows that to happen that the Prime Minister can appoint somebody. But I think it is still a big achievement for the country for a woman to be appointed to the post. And just recently also we've looked at 50 per cent of women in the head of ministry role in the Cook Islands. So it is very tough for women and it's trying to change the thinking of people, shifting the thinking that females can be good members and they are good members when they get in for the welfare of the family. They do think differently about things and it is tough. But this workshop in the last two days has been able to give us, sharing ideas with other people of their struggles and their success, and also being supported by the various agencies who are able to fill capacity at all levels for women in parliament and for the parliament itself and generally getting people to understand more about gender equality, which is not just a push for women, but rather women and men being equal in this parliament.
COUTTS: Well Dame Carol Kidu as we know has fought for special seats, reserved seats and positive discrimination for the women of Papua New Guinea to get into parliament. A number did, were successful, but those who were successful in the last elections are saying they don't want reserved seats or positive discrimination, it should be merit-based?
RATTLE: Yes there's mixed feelings about that we've heard during the week. Like some of us say yes definitely to women to succeed by merit is definitely that's what everybody would aspire to. But until we change the thinking in the communities, the man's the head of the family and so the man I think that follows through all the way to parliament. But in actual fact when people think about the role of a woman in the home as the leader of the home and the caring for the family, look after the children from birth right through and managing the home, juggling what goes on in the home, that why can't they go all the way to parliament? Why can't that go to the highest decision making body of the country? And the thinking is that until we have 50 per cent of women, 50 per cent of men in parliament, democracy can't be seen to be observed. So I do believe that we do in some country, we do need to have that head-start and then women in their own merits I suppose can prove themselves by their full participation and being good parliamentarians and doing good debate in there for what's good for the welfare of the people. I do believe that it is important to re-look at that and those who succeed on merit, well that's fantastic, but we do definitely have to take some special measures to make a difference for communities that just don't have that thinking.
COUTTS: After this forum that has been held in Sydney between MPs from across the Pacific and MPs from across Australia, what's next, or is this going to be another report that finds its ways to the top shelf and gathers dust?
RATTLE: Absolutely not, we've got lots of work to do. The purpose of this week was to look at our … there was a proposed where AusAid has allocated funding for the next five years, and it's broken down into three stages. And we've just done the first stage of it, which is the coming together, the networking and the sharing and all that. And then we'll come out with an outcome that's going to lead us into the second stage and the third stage of this program. And what we hear is yes we do need some in-country focussed training for women parliamentarians, for parliamentarians generally, and also the parliament staff, because they need that assistance as well. Looking at things like the IT, the websites where people can get in and talk some more, looking at research skills and training focussed to the needs of each country, because what we've discovered during these last two days there's not one way fits all, because each country has different ways of doing things. Some countries don't have parties at all and some countries only function on parties. So it is very important as we move on to the second stage that we identify what are the country needs that are going to be of use for them, rather than just one program that's the same for everybody. So from our point of view we're going to be looking forward to implementing our second stage which builds onto the third stage where we hope to be seeing some changes as we go along with women joining up in parliament.