The Global Information Society Watch Cook Islands report was released, written by Maureen Hilyard, Alexis Wolfgramm and Lynnsay Rongokea from the Pan Pacific and Southeast Asia Women’s Association. Analía Lavin interviewed Maureen Hilyard, one of the authors, on the main issues women face online, on gender equality in the political system, and on the role of the media.
Analía Lavin: What are the main issues that women from the Cook Islands are currently facing?
Maureen Hilyard: At the moment we’re really pushing for gender balance in politics. With the elections coming up next year, we’re focusing on getting women to stand for parliament. Currently, approximately 12 or 13 percent of the parliament is female (that is, around 21 of the representatives). It’s high for the Pacific region, but it’s still low.
Last year we had a meeting with the political parties to show them the potential of quotas during candidate selection for the elections, and neither of the two main parties showed very much interest at all. However, over the last year there were two by-elections, and the opposition has put up female candidates that have actually won. We have an opportunity to build momentum, and we’re working on it.
AL: What role has the internet played in this issue?
MH: At the moment, the internet hasn’t played much role at all, because internet communication and its development is not a priority for the government. NGOs, however, are pushing for a higher profile, and women have a key role to play there.
Interestingly, there are a lot of women involved in internet-related activities in government departments, the private sector and universities, and we’re working for these women to take the lead in the development of internet policy.
AL: What has been the reaction of the media?
MH: Our local media is really supportive, including radio and TV. One of the newspaper editors, for example, is very keen on promoting women in leadership roles and in the development of the internet. When I am attend international events, as both an internet expert and a women leader, the newspaper will cover the event. And it generates interest, because in the country the expectation is that the internet expert would be a man.
Over the next year we’ll be focusing on creating advertisements to publish in all types of media, traditional and online. We’re inviting women to attend workshops and find out more about political processes, so they can participate, both in policy-making and in elections.
AL: Does the country have ICT policies in place?
MH: We don’t have any legislation focusing exclusively on the internet. The Telecommunication Act, for example, needs to be reviewed and has very little to do with the internet. And we have a Minister of IT (who is also our Prime Minister), but we don’t have the corresponding ministry.
It is in this context that we are pushing for women in leadership roles. And we’re using whatever means we can, not just internet. For example, we’ve organised a very well attended film production course where women were able to produce TV and YouTube spots to raise awareness on these issues.
Image: Illustration from the Global Information Society Watch 2013