SAMOA OBSERVER – TM By Tina Mata’afa-Tufele, 24/04/2021
The former President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands has praised Fiame Naomi Mataafa, saying that even if she does not ultimately win Government she has won for women’s leadership in the Pacific.
Dr. Heine is the first woman to hold the presidency of the Marshall Islands but also the first female president of any small Pacific island country and an outspoken advocate for women’s political leadership in the region.
In a statement posted to her official Twitter account this week, she said that if the Faatuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) party’s performance was all the same, a “big win for women”.
Dr. Heine, whose tenure in the nation’s top job lasted for four years and ended in January last year, endorsed Fiame last Thursday.
“Regardless of the final results for Samoa’s political leadership, Fiame’s incredible leadership resulting in the F.A.S.T. party’s historical win represents a big win for women in Pacific politics…congratulations,” Dr. Heine said.
The former teacher has become a role model for women’s political participation in the region after successfully running the country, which has a population of nearly 60,000 people; its population is spread across some 29 atolls.
The state country is politically associated with the United States of America.
The Micronesian country, along with four others, quit the Pacific Islands Forum in February, is a move that threatens to set back Pacific regional diplomacy. The split followed a narrow 9-8 loss of Micronesia’s preferred candidate for the leadership of the forum, a move the states said broke a long-standing and unspoken agreement of having rotating Presidents from across the forum’s subregions.
The split is expected to take a year to formalise.
Her statement could suggest that the country would enjoy closer relations with Samoa under Fiame’s administration and possibly mend the rift between north and south Pacific states.
The Pacific Community (S.P.C.) describes her as a pioneer for female political leadership in a description on their website.
“By shattering this long-standing glass ceiling, President Heine is paving the way for more women leaders at all echelons of Pacific society including its highest offices. She’s also a role model for young Pacific girls and women.”
At that time she assumed office, Dr. Heine was also the only woman in parliament. President Heine has had a long history of firsts.
In 2004, she became the first person (woman or man) in the Marshall Islands to earn a doctorate (she graduated with a PhD in Education from the University of South California) and was the first female president of the College of Marshall Islands.
Dr. Heine, 70, is the co-founder of the women’s rights group Women United Together Marshall Islands (W.U.T.M.I.), an association advocating for the elimination of violence against women and providing counseling services for victims of domestic violence.
She is serving her third term as a Member of Parliament from the constituency of Aur Atoll Electoral District in the Republic of Marshall Islands.