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Women Speak Out! A Report of the Pacific Women's Conference. October 27 – November 2

Cook Islands

Cook Islands

I speak as a Cook Islander and as a member of the Cook Islands Christian Church of the Ngatangiia Parish. I am also a promoter and organiser of the World Day of Prayer services in the Cook Islands and the President of the Rarotonga CICC Women's Council.

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The four main denominations in the Cook Islands are the Cook Islands Christian Church, Roman Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist, and the Church of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons).

Religion plays a very important part in the life of most Cook Islanders, men and women. In the CICC denomination, men have an advantage over women and I hear that this is the same in the Roman Catholic Church and the Seventh Day Adventist church.

In the Cook Islands Christian Church, all the ministers of the 22 CICC parishes are men. Not one is a woman. In each parish there are between 12 (at the most) and 6 (at the least) deacons. Only two women in the CICC parishes are deaconesses in their own right. One is from Mauke Island and the other is from Ngatangiia, Rarotonga.

Further, women do not preach from the pulpit – only men do that. I often wonder why this is so, especially since women clean and sweep the pulpit. If only men are allowed to preach from the pulpit, then why can't they sweep and clean it?

In the Cook islands, women have to wear hats or cover their hair whenever they have to enter a church. Women do all the preparations for any feast at a religious function and wait on the guests. After the feast the women have to clean up. The men decide the feast but the women do all the work. Women have accepted this and the men took advantage of them. I think its about time we do something about it.

There are many other ways in which women do all or most of the work in the church. Yet to hold a position in the church, for example, to be a deacon, one must; a) be a man, b) be an elderly person, c) preferably be a chief traditionally or a son of a chief.

Another interesting thing about deacons and ministers is that if their wives die, they cannot remain as minister or deacon because they have no wife to do all the woman's duties. Unless he marries again, he will lose his position. In our church at Ngatangiia, the ‘deacons’ wives clean all page 19 the utensils used for Holy Communion.

This goes back to our traditional culture which, with Western culture, has a great influence on religion in the Cook Islands. For example, only the wives of a minister or deacon can sweep the pulpit, which is a throwover from when the wives of the early missionaries did this. The influence from traditional culture comes in from only sons having access to titles, not daughters, for example.

Most men like to stick to these traditions but it is simply a way of preventing women from becoming ministers or deacons. Thus, women can be ordinary members of the church, but not its organisers or leaders. I think its about time we do something about it. We will speak out.