Being the president: Hilda Heine, gender and political leadership in the Marshall Islands
journal contributionposted on 02.02.2021, 21:20 by John CoxJohn Cox, Jack Corbett, Ceridwen Spark
The literature on gender and democratic politics in the Pacific Islands is dominated by a deficit model that seeks to explain the dearth of women candidates, of MPs and of women holding senior political positions. A small body of recent scholarship has focused on the experience of a select few women who have defied the odds to win high office. Specifically, this work has focused on the strategies that women leaders employ to win election in male dominated environments. This article extends these studies by focusing on how women govern and lead. Drawing on interviews with President Hilda Heine, the first and only woman elected head of state in a small Pacific Island country, her staff and network of supporters, we outline seven strategies for women politicians. Documenting these strategies serves three distinct purposes: 1) they add to our understanding of how Pacific women leaders undertake intentional action to shape male dominated environments; 2) they contain important primary source material that adds to the historical archive of this period in Marshallese politics; and 3) they inform efforts by reformers, including international donors, aiming to equip women leaders to serve in senior positions, both in Marshall Islands and the wider Pacific island region.