When I was a young girl, my father, who served as the first Governor of American Samoa and in other leadership positions across the Pacific, would take me along with him whenever he would travel for work. I learned a lot watching my father over the years and am grateful for the leadership skills and desire to serve that he instilled in me. I also learned just how few women there were in leadership positions in Pacific cultures.
As women, our struggle for equal rights and participation in government and community leadership positions is never ending. The women who came before us and paved the way knew this, and so must we. Only by doing this, will we be able to ensure that the ideals and principles that bind us together as women are realized. Our natural instinct to care for our families and be involved in our communities is one of our greatest strengths and we must continue to utilize these innate traits, which will help us to further our rate of participation in government and corporate leadership.
I am glad to say that things are changing. From Betty Farrington, who was the first island woman to serve as a delegate to the United States Congress, to today’s leaders like Tulsi Gabbard and Madeleine Bordallo, island women are making their mark in service to their communities. Currently, a record 108 women (20% of the total membership) serve in the 114th Congress as of January 2015, seven more than at the beginning of the 113th Congress. Of the 88 women in the House, 65 are Democrats, including three of the Delegates, and 23 are Republicans, including one Delegate (myself). Of the 20 women in the Senate, 14 are Democrats and six are Republicans. While this is a welcome increase, it is clear to see that the proportion of the women serving in Congress is still extremely disproportionate to that of the general population. Similarly, there are currently only 24 female CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies. That means that less than 5% of them are women.
On a side note, I am also proud to say that a record 14 Members of the 114th Congress (2.6% of the total membership and one more than at the beginning of the 113th Congress) are of Asian, South Asian, or Pacific Islander ancestry.
Women are also beginning to reach leadership positions in other nations across the Pacific. In fact, just a few weeks ago, at the behest of the State Department, I was asked to serve as a “mentor” to those women who were seeking office in the Samoa elections. I was encouraged by their desire to “put themselves out there” for the better of their communities, and am proud to say that three of them are now holding office and serving those communities.
One issue that we face across the Pacific is the quality of education our young people are receiving. For many years, the United States’ island territories have been shortchanged when it comes to education funding for our young people. However, things are beginning to change. I am proud to say that just a few months ago; I was able to negotiate for a new formula as to how the territories are funded regarding education, which will allow for a dramatic increase in education funding for those areas.
When it comes to educating our young people, we need a new focus on math and science education. These areas of study are the driving forces for the future of business. As the global economy grows and technology brings our world closer together, we are going to need people who have the knowledge and have developed the skills necessary to compete.
Women in particular have an excellent opportunity to advance with this type of education as those careers that require such skills aren’t necessarily considered to be jobs that are male preferred. The only muscle that counts in these fields is the one between the ears and women obviously have a distinct advantage in that area.
We need to continue to promote a greater awareness of the business opportunities that are available to women around the world, and there needs to be more investment in women who want to form a business, from both the private and public sectors.
Women are making great strides in obtaining leadership positions around the globe, and I want to take this opportunity to recognize International Women’s Day, and the good it does in bringing more awareness to this issue that has been around since the dawn of civilization. I hope that the level of awareness in reconciling these issues will increase, and I will continue to be a voice for parity between the genders.