Clark delivered her views on ‘Women in Politics’ in the Pacific context and talked about some important issues that she considers women need to be taking a very big interest in, such as climate change.
With our main island Rarotonga having mountains we can retreat to in times of disaster, Clark noted. However, she said there should be concern about atolls in the Cook Islands that have no higher ground.
“What’s going to happen to them (atolls), their ground water, their capacity to produce crops, food security, more frequent and intense storms that are coming, and who dies the most in those events?
“The international evidence is its children, women and the older people, because they can’t run away. Internationally the death rate from these kinds of big storm disasters is about 3 to 1 women to men; so it matters to women that we get on top of such issues as climate change.”
Clark says a huge issue now in the Pacific and New Zealand is non-communicable diseases (NCDs), and is pleased the Ministry of Health in the Cook Islands is on top of the tobacco issues.
“The big one now is the diabetes and all the things that come from that. There’s an estimate that globally the cost of treating diabetes will be around 2.8 per cent of global gross domestic product by 2030.
“Women need to lead the move towards the traditional healthier foods away from processed foods, the sugars, the fats, that contribute to the high levels of illness in the society.
“The third issue is the women’s role as the custodian of language and culture. There is not just one Cook Islands language - each of your islands have their own dialect. It’s so easy when you have a very small language group to lose it. Every language we lose, is a terrible loss. The role of women in keeping language going is just so critical and in all its diversity, in all the islands.”
Clark says domestic violence is also an important matter of concern, not just in the Pacific but everywhere, “We can’t really say we have reached full gender equality, if until we are on top of that one [domestic violence], nobody should be hitting their wife.
“If a woman doesn’t feel safe in her home or on the streets, it limits her potential in what she can do.
“For all these reasons, all these important issues I am a strong advocate of women being at the decision-making table.
“For the Cook Islands at 25 per cent women’s representation, you’re up there with the rest of the Pacific, but you want to be better, you want to move towards to seeing a woman prime minister - more women ministers, because women have so much to contribute.
“Let me encourage the NCW in its effort to push the women forward and to push for gender equality in every field, I wish you every success in doing that.”
Clark was the special guest speaker at the Cook Islands Rotary Club’s 50th celebration dinner held at the Aroa Nui Hall in Arorangi on Saturday evening; she departed Rarotonga on Sunday afternoon.
She is the previous administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) from 2009 to 2017 and the first female head to hold this post. Earlier this year, Clark became the patron of The Helen Clark Foundation.