Being the First: Women Leaders in the Pacific Islands


Ceridwen Spark, John Cox and Jack Corbett

February 2018

Download PDF

See also Rules of thumb for women leaders in the Pacific, and beyond (Ceridwen Spark in The Interpreter, 22 February 2018)

Women in the Pacific face many barriers women to participating in formal politics. Yet some defy these barriers, are elected to parliament, and achieve high office. This paper describes the experiences of three such women: President Hilda Heine from the Marshall Islands; the Honorable Fiame Naomi Mata’afa from Samoa; and Dame Carol Kidu from Papua New Guinea.

These women each won senior leadership positions in government. As the ‘first’ women to reach the apex of parliamentary politics, their stories offer valuable insights for donors and other reformers seeking to address gender imbalance in the Pacific and beyond. These women had to learn how and when to take a stand. They used their family and political networks, alongside their education, expertise and international networks, to navigate male-dominated political environments in highly politically-savvy ways. They built strong social and cultural capital. No amount of training can substitute for these skills, or for the slow and steady engagement required to forge the reputation necessary to succeed.

About DLP

The Developmental Leadership Program (DLP) is an international research initiative that explores how leadership, power and political processes drive or block successful development.

DLP focuses on the crucial role of home-grown leaderships and coalitions in forging legitimate political settlements and institutions that promote developmental outcomes, such as sustainable growth, political stability and inclusive social development.

Find out more


New studies on leadership for transformational change in Africa

Thursday 31st May 2018

A new series of studies asks what factors support or hinder leadership for transformational change in Africa. They are published in collaboration with the UONGOZI Institute.

Read more

New article on politically informed work for climate change mitigation in China and India

Monday 21st May 2018

In Development Policy Review, Tom Harrison and Genia Kostka draw on their DLP research project to explore 'Bureaucratic manoeuvres and the local politics of climate change mitigation in China and India'.

Read more

Follow: @dlprog