Woman trailblazer wishes Fiame well

The first female Vice President of Palau, Sandra Pierantozzi, is wishing former Deputy Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa the best as she steps away from her party after 45 years.

As another pioneering woman in politics, Ms. Pierantozzi and Fiame crossed paths many times over the years. In an interview with the Samoa Observer, the former Vice President said Fiame has been an inspiration to many women in the region to take up politics, including herself.

“We need more women like her, who are from the region, who know what women in the region are going through,” she said. 

“I have been in many conferences for women here and abroad and in the Pacific, where we bring women from other parts of the world to come and tell us what to do or what we should not do.

“Pacific women know their situation best and they can speak best for their own kind.”

Fiame and Ms. Pierantozzi are just four years apart, though the former began her political career much earlier. She was first elected into the Samoan Parliament in 1985 to represent Lotofaga, and began holding ministerial positions from her second term in 1991, becoming the first woman to do so. 

Fiame has been the Minister of Education, Women, Community and Social Development and Justice, until taking on Minister of Natural Resources and Environment in 2016.

Ms. Pierantozzi said she hopes Fiame will win her seat again in the next election and continue to work in politics. Had the global coronavirus pandemic not halted international travel, she would be on a plane to Samoa to help Fiame campaign, she said.

“I know Fiame has a lot of love for women’s issue and women’s rights," she said.

“Her absence from that position will leave big shoes which are hard to fill, and a glaring gap for women to fill. 

“If she is re-elected to her position I hope and pray that she will look back and reflect on what trails she has blazed, what new trails need to be blazed and what she can do for women not only in Samoa but all through the Pacific.”

“I am hoping for the best for her and I am hoping she will continue to be a strong women leader in the Pacific that we can all look up to.”

Ms. Pierantozzi was both the first woman elected to the Senate of the Palau National Congress in 1997, and then later the first woman elected as Vice President in January 2001.

Unlike in the American system, Palau elects a V.P. separately to the President, not as a joint running team.

“So I think I did very well to get elected to the second highest position in the country, and incidentally there is a woman lawyer who is now a senator running to become Vice President at our elections in November.

“I heard her saying ‘I would like to run, and beat Sandra’s record,’ so I told her yes, go for it – records are made to be broken so I hope you go break my record and win.”        

She became the Minister of Health, despite wanting the Minister of Finance role, and is still known for being the women who cleaned up the country’s only hospital and dealing with a potential S.A.R.S. crisis when the President was out of the country, deftly avoiding  a diplomatic incident when she halted flights from Taiwan.

Before her vice-presidency she served as Senator of the National Congress from 1996 until 2001 as Floor Leader. 

As well as her elected positions, she held a number of appointed posts, including Minister of Administration and Budget (now called Ministry of Finance), and Minister of State in change for Foreign and Domestic Affairs, and the Office of the Public Defender. 

Ms. Pierantozzi said her earliest memories of Fiame are of the formidable woman introducing herself as the “ultimate political child.”

Fiame’s parents are Samoa’s first Prime Minster Fiame Mata’afa Faumuina Mulinuu II, and Laulu Feauimalemau Mata’afa, who represented Lotogaga in Parliament.

Her maternal grandfather Le Mamea Matatumua Ata was one of the framers of the Constitution. 

As both a chiefly title holding woman and a politician, Fiame is a “force to contend with,” Ms. Pierantozzi said.

“I have always looked up to her as another woman leader in the Pacific, not only for women but for every person. 

“She is an example of how women can get into positions of leadership and use those positions to help women progress in their respective communities.”

The former V.P. retired from politics after her first term but following the death of a sitting Senator in 2014 she won a special election and held that seat until 2016.

Today she runs her flower shop, Sun’s Flower Shop in Koror, and remains a strong advocate for women to advance into all areas of governance and leadership positions. 

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