Being Hilda Heine
29th February, 2016
Koror — “It kinda happened,” Republic of Marshall Islands President Hilda Heinesaid of her recent election to the top political post. Admittedly surprised by the election result, the soft-spoken petite woman said the presidency was far from her mind. “I didn’t really work for it or targeted it. I was at the right place at the right time. When I was asked to take the role, I never thought about it that much,” Heine recalled.
Securing 24 votes from the 33-member Marshall Islands parliament, Heinebecame the first woman to head the government of an independent Pacific Island nation. Her election came a day after a no-confidence motion removed CastenNemra, who served for just a week after being sworn in as president, making his tenure the shortest presidency in the island nation’s history.
In a region where there is a small percentage of women involved in politics and policymaking, Heine has succeeded in breaking the glass ceiling to inspire the next generation of women in Micronesia. Heine made history for being the first woman president of the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
The former secretary of education and past president of the College of the Marshall Islands said she never considered herself a politician. Heine is a longtime educator and the only Marshallese to achieve a PhD. She has three children and a grandchild. She is married to Tommy Kijiner Jr., now referred to as the First Gentleman.
Heine initially downplayed talks that she would be elected into the top political position. “Why waste my time about something that might not happen. I didn’t think much about it because we have a male-dominated parliament,” the president said.
However, Heine said the Marshall Islands have been, historically, a matriarchal society. Traditionally, land rights are inherited from the mother, affording women some influence on society.
When asked if the Pacific region is generally ready for women leaders, Heine she said more women could move up to top roles in society the way that their male counterparts do. “There are so many gifted women in the Pacific; they are leaders in their own ways, in their organizations. You see a lot of women leading organizations,” Heine said.
But leadership, she said, should not be a gender issue. “You have to look at the merits of what we can do or what we have done, not because you are a man or a woman,” Heine added.
Palau leaders admire Heine’s achievements in the Pacific. Heine, who was in Palau last week for the Micronesian Presidents’ Summit and the Micronesian Chief Executives’ Summit — her first official attendance as her country’s president— was repeatedly commended for her accomplishments. On Feb. 24, the Palau Congress presented Heine a resolution applauding her achievements and commending her as the first woman head of state in the Pacific. Sens. Uduch Senior and Rukebai Inabo presented the resolution during the conclusion of the Micronesian Chief Executive Summit.
A former education minister, Heine was the sole presidential candidate when the ballot was held at the Marshall Islands parliament. She won 24 of the 30 votes cast, with six parliamentarians abstaining and three absent from the 33-seat Nitijela. Heine is the first Marshallese citizen to obtain a doctorate and just one of just three women in parliament.
“It is evident in the career of her Excellency Hilda Heine PH.D, president of RMI, that she is a dedicated woman who is passionate to serve the public to advance the RMI capacity in numerous areas including economy, education, health and environmental issues such as climate change,” the resolution stated.
Heine thanked her colleagues in the summit and said she has so much to learn and looks forward in collaborating with his male colleagues in voicing out the issues of the region.
[Source: The Guam Daily Post, Sunday 28th February, 2016