"Rwandan priorities similar to ours", says Cook Islands one women MP

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19 March 2007

Our Minister for Women’s Affairs, Ngamau Munokoa, has recently returned from a major conference in Rwanda, Africa, impressed with that nation’s determination to promote women and eliminate poverty by 2020. The conference, which was held 22-23 February, had the theme “Gender, Nation Building and the role of Parliament.”  It was organised by the Rwandan Women’s Parliamentary Forum in collaboration with the Rwandan Parliament to mark the Forum’s 10th anniversary. Rwanda has the distinction of having the highest number of women legislators in the world. 

The President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, hosted the conference. The chief guest was the first woman president in Africa, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, of Liberia. Munokoa said 158 people were invited to attend but in all some 400 people attended. She said she was the only Pacific invitee to attend. The Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu delegates did not attend. The objectives of the conference included; 

  • sharing experiences and best practices on parliament’s role in promoting nation building through gender equality,
  • building networks and partnerships in promoting development and gender equality
  • building partnerships with development partners in the area of nation building
  • consolidating the gains made and elaborating strategies for further strengthening the contribution of women.

Themes addressed, said Munokoa, included;

  • gender based violence as an obstacle to development
  • correlation between human development and gender equality
  • importance of gender analysis in forming policy and legislation
  • critical role of partnerships with the private sector and civil society.

The delegates called on several institutions, sectors and agencies to commit to various tasks. These included for example;

  • asking governments to provide the framework and resources for national capacity development for gender and nation building and to ensure equality and equity in education,
  • asking parliaments to review and repeal existing discriminatory laws and to where laws don’t exist to pass laws for the protection of rights particularly on inheritance, succession and gender based violence.
  • asking the private sector to spearhead initiatives to identify specific barriers to and provide solutions for women’s economic empowerment,
  • asking civil society to undertake analysis and research on the reasons for persistent inequality in economic participation among men and women in order to form policies for equitable economic empowerment.
  • asking the UN and International Multilateral Organisations to support national capacity building and honour commitments to increase financial flows for equitable development.

Munokoa said she spoke twice. Firstly on what the Cook Islands is doing to help women and the similarities between the Cook Islands and Rwanda. She told the Herald she likened Rwanda’s rural areas to one of our outer islands.
The people grew and ate taro, kumera, arrowroot and also grew tea and coffee plants. There were similar priorities in health, education, roading, water and sewage.  Her second speech covered violence against women and the Cook Islands experience. She also made reference to the CEDAW (Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) Report.
 Munokoa was also interviewed by Rwanda TV.  When she met the British High Commissioner to Rwanda he admitted to not knowing anything about the Cook Islands. He didn’t even know the place existed, said Munokoa. During the conference she sat between women from Mozambique and South Africa.  Munokoa traveled by herself and admitted to being afraid to venture outside the hotel.   Munokoa said that after she spoke in Parliament here on her trip and tabled her report, Norman George, who had earlier criticised her for attending the conference, congratulated her. 

[Cook Islands Times Weekly]

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