By: L.N. Reklai
Senator Gardinia Aisek is the first female Senator to the Chuuk State Legislature in its 50-plus years of existence. Senator Aisek won in March this year with highest number of votes and a wide margin of 500 between her and the second candidate. Following is an interview with her of her experiences, challenges and opportunities in her new role. [restrict]
Q. What made you decide to run for public of office in your country?
A. “I believe it was my faith in God that led me to this decision. I never imagined, dreamed or even wanted to run for public office or go into politics. I believe I was led to run for office.”
Q. What was the first thing you did when you realize you want to run for public office?
A. “I first went to talk to my youngest brother, then other brothers and my uncles.”
Q. What was their reaction to your decision?
A. “Well, my youngest brother probably thought I was not serious. My other brothers said as a woman I probably should not run but my uncles encouraged me to run.”
Q. Were you the only female candidate in this race?
A. “No, I was not. There was another lady who was also running.
Q. Before running for office, what was your job in Chuuk?
A. “I helped my brother run our family hotel business but prior to that I was contracted as a director for our Education Department. In my capacity, I worked hard to create more productive educational workforce by ensuring that teachers and educators are in the classroom when they are supposed to. I monitored all time sheets and sick leaves returned timesheets and even payroll when I saw clear abuse of the system. I was terminated by our Ministry of Education for trying to implement change.”
Q. What would you say contributed to your success for getting elected?
A. I believe that first, it is God’s will and therefore it happened. Second, I went to almost every house in Chuuk and spoke to people and I asked them to pray and do what it is right. Third, I think people realize that after I left education, the system went back to its old ways and people realize that I was making positive changes.”
Q. What is it like now being a Senator?
A. It’s actually kind of lonely. I mean, here in Palau, there is more than one female Senator so they can relate to each other. For me, I find myself voting a lot against overwhelming majority. Our sessions are not televised but they are broadcasted live on radio. People sometimes think when someone votes no, even if it’s not me, they still think it’s me because I am usually the one voting no. For example, when House of Representatives sent a measure to Senate, the rest of my colleagues will vote to kill it. I will be the only one voting yes just so that we can bring the issue to the table and discuss it. But the rest of Senators want to kill it just because it’s a bill from the other house.”
Q. Do you think you are making a difference and if so, what is it?
A. I am not sure. As I say, most of the time, I would be the only one for or against something. I’ve learned a lot though and I will continue to strive to see what I can do.
Q. Do you think that as a woman, your running and winning the Senate seat may get more women to run for public office in next election?
A. Yes I do. I think many women will think about it now that I have been able to win. There are still many challenges but I think more women will run.
Q. Last question, who was the most influential person in your life that you believed influenced you to be who you are today?
A. My father and my mother. My father always encouraged me to speak my mind even when I was told by others not to talk too much because I am female. And my mother’s strong work ethic and tough mindedness raising 8 children almost by herself for many years influenced me to seek always to better myself.
The best advise my father gave me is this, “It is not what’s on the outside that matters but what’s inside your heart.” [/restrict]