‘I don’t know any Cook Islands woman who is shy’

Friday June 28, 2019 Written by Published in National
Munokoa Poto Williams will be sworn in on July 3 as a minister in Jacinda Ardern’s New Zealand government. 19062732 Munokoa Poto Williams will be sworn in on July 3 as a minister in Jacinda Ardern’s New Zealand government. 19062732

The New Zealand city of Christchurch had been ripped apart by a massive earthquake. Many people were fleeing the city. But in 2012, Munokoa Poto Williams moved to Christchurch.


Williams is a New Zealand-born Cook Islander; her mother is from the Marsters family; her father hails from the island of Manihiki with connections to Penrhyn, Rakahanga and Palmerston.

She had seen natural diasters strike the islands where her family came from – so when one struck New Zealand, she wanted to help. She took a position as regional manager of the St John of God Hauora Trust, a disability and youth services provider.

The following year, talking with a work colleague, she was persuaded to run for Parliament. Respected, long-serving local MP Lianne Dalziel had stepped down as an MP to take up the Christchurch mayoralty, leaving a vacancy in the quake-torn Christchurch East electorate.

Williams won and has never looked back. “Sometimes when a door opens, it opens wide enough to step all the way through.”

Williams won nearly two-thirds of the votes in the by-election. Four years later Labour leader Jacinda Ardern led the party into government and, this week, 57-year-old Williams was made a minister – the first Cook Islands woman to serve at that level in New Zealand.

She will be sworn in next week as minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector, as well as sssociate minister for Social Development, Immigration and Greater Christchurch Regeneration.

Speaking to Cook Islands News yesterday she said she was humbled. “I feel very amazed, very privileged. I feel a sense of obligation and duty, a sense of responsibility, a huge responsibility.”

As a female minister in a Government led by a young woman, she is a strong supporter of women in leadership. Her first advice to women in the political arena is, “believe in yourself, believe in your ability.”

She adds: “Self-belief is important.”

Her second piece of advice? “Have a good support network, that the kids are taken care of, that family and friends provide good support – having this network, you can achieve anything.”

“It’s important our family and cultural obligations are met. Nobody can do it on their own, even men need their wives/husbands.”

The Cook Islands Parliament has a woman, Speaker Niki Rattle, in charge. But only five of the 23 MPs are women: health minister Rose Brown in government; Tina Browne, Agnes Armstrong, Selina Napa and Tetangi Matapo all in Opposition.

But Williams says Cook Islands women are strong, nonetheless. “It’s interesting,” she says, “there’s been a lot of leadership in the Cook Islands with women.”

She believes the Cook Islands has never really had that problem of women at the top.

“I don’t know any Cook Islands woman who is shy.” 


•             Williams is the youngest of five children; she and her sister Tokerau are the surviving siblings.

•             Williams’ brother Aaron Marston was a teacher at Tereora College and worked at University of the South Pacific.

•             She was born in Wellington and grew up in Auckland, where she attended Beresford Street School and Auckland Girls’ Grammar; she graduated from Southern Cross University in New South Wales with an MBA; her doctoral topic was Pacific women’s leadership.

•             Williams visited Rarotonga for the country’s 50th anniversary and has called in on more than several official visits.




  • Comment Link Elizabeth Green Friday, 05 July 2019 08:46 posted by Elizabeth Green

    Congratulations so proud of you. Come a long since we were in England St, Lots love and blessings, from Aunty Liz Green

  • Comment Link Grace Hutton Tuesday, 02 July 2019 14:44 posted by Grace Hutton

    Congratulations Munokoapoto :-) lovely to see you on Monday night

  • Comment Link Ann Rota Monday, 01 July 2019 23:50 posted by Ann Rota

    Congratulations Munukoa for your high achievement in being the first Cook Island woman to hold a ministerial post in the New Zealand Government....God bless you all the way

  • Comment Link John Wilkinson Haurua Monday, 01 July 2019 19:10 posted by John Wilkinson Haurua

    Keep striving cousin from your Anau around England st Ponsonby /Grey Lynn and every else in town

  • Comment Link Tina Nahora Sunday, 30 June 2019 13:06 posted by Tina Nahora

    Congradulations Munokoapoto, Mama & Papa Williams would be proud of you and your achievements. Love to you Aunty Naomi & Anau from the Bay.

  • Comment Link Teina Tutai Saturday, 29 June 2019 20:54 posted by Teina Tutai

    Congratulations Munokoa Poto William to God be the glory.all the best.

  • Comment Link Mosman Tessa Gelling Saturday, 29 June 2019 18:16 posted by Mosman Tessa Gelling

    Congrats God bless you.

  • Comment Link Descendant of Thomas  Munokoa Poto Marsters Saturday, 29 June 2019 14:06 posted by Descendant of Thomas Munokoa Poto Marsters

    Kia Orana Poto and Congratulations! sending you Aroa from the Jacob & Takangiva Marsters family in Porirua, Wellington, Hastings, Christchurch & Auckland. So proud of your achievements and we are honoured and privileged to see a mighty cook islander beside a great leader! We look forward to hearing more of your great works! Te Atua Te Aroa

  • Comment Link Ritia Hall Saturday, 29 June 2019 01:51 posted by Ritia Hall

    Kia Orana Munokoa,

    Congratulations, so proud to hear that we have a Cook Island sister in the Political Arena.

    Kia Manuia.

  • Comment Link Mosman Tessa Gelling Friday, 28 June 2019 23:54 posted by Mosman Tessa Gelling

    Very proud of you aunty Munokoa Poto Williams, You are an absolute inspiration to all Cook Islanders and especially to all Pacific Women who are striving to be leaders. As a woman of Manihiki and Rakahanga I give you our Reo (voice) Aroha Korereka and God Bless you always.

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