President Dr Hilda C. Heine made history as the first woman to lead an independent Pacific Island nation when she was elected President of the Marshall Islands in January 2016. 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.
President Heine is a long-standing educator who, early in her career, worked in the trenches as a classroom teacher, counsellor, and Secretary of Education then later went on to become the Minister of Education for the Marshall Islands, a position she served in prior to being elected president. During this time, she 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 degree. She was also the first female president of the College of Marshall Islands, and also the first ever president of the college.
As president, she strongly appeals to and urges all countries to take action to mitigate climate change. In June, she addressed the European Parliament to seek its support to persuade President Donald Trump of the importance and need for urgent action on climate change. The Marshall Islands comprises over a thousand low-lying islands and islets that are threatened by the effects of climate change such as rising sea levels and more frequent and extreme weather events such as droughts and floods.
Addressing new graduates at the University of the South Pacific’s graduation ceremony in Majuro in May, President Heine said: “Like most of our sister nations in the Pacific, we expect research, knowledge and understanding on how to address the pressing issues of climate change so that we can continue to call these islands our home – not in the nostalgic sense of a displaced person, but as a people actively developing and living in the country”.
President Heine, 66, is the co-founder of the women’s rights group Women United Together Marshall Islands (WUTMI), an association advocating for the elimination of violence against women and providing counselling services for victims of domestic violence.
The 70 Inspiring Pacific Women campaign has been produced by the Pacific Community (SPC) in partnership with Australian Aid and Pacific Women. The campaign marks the 70th anniversary of SPC, and leads up to the 13th Triennial Conference of Pacific Women and 6th Meeting of Ministers for Women in Suva (Fiji) from 2nd to 5th October 2017.