In January 2016, President of Marshall Islands Casten Nemra was defeated in a no-confidence motion after just one week in office, the shortest tenure in Marshallese history. The following day, more history was made as Dr Hilda Heine was elected with 24 votes by the 33-seat Nitijela as Marshall Islands’ first female president.
In many ways, Heine fits the mould of female parliamentarians in the Pacific, who tend to be highly educated, members of politically connected families and have a background in the public service. Heine was the first Marshallese person to earn a doctorate degree, from the University of Southern California in 2004. The Heine family have been ‘formative participants in the shaping of the future of the Marshall Islands’ and several members are currently active in Marshallese politics.
As well as holding high-ranking positions in the public service and at the College of the Marshall Islands, Heine was one of the founders of Women United Together Marshall Islands, a high-profile Marshallese women’s organisation. Yet she is also a groundbreaking figure in Pacific history, as the first woman to be elected head of government of a Pacific independent state.
This In Brief looks at the significance of Heine’s achievement in the context of the study of Pacific women in politics.