Dr. Hilda Cathy Heine is a Marshallese educator and politician. She served as the eighth President of the Marshall Islands from 2016 to 2020. When she assumed office she became the first female President of her country and the first elected female leader of any independent Pacific Island nation.
Before her Presidency Dr. Heine was Minister of Education and served the Marshallese government in various capacities including as President of the College of the Marshall Islands. Dr. Heine even served within other island communities, working for the Pacific Resources for Education and Learning in Hawaii for ten years.
A strong advocate for women’s rights, Heine is a co-founder and advisor to Women United Together Marshall Islands. Under her leadership, the Pacific Women Leaders Coalition was formed in 2019. During her time in office, her government secured a million dollars from Taiwan to start an empowerment fund for women, to help them take out loans and start their own businesses.
This inspiring Pacific leader was also the first person (male or female) in the Marshall Islands to receive a Doctorate degree. She attended college in the United States where she earned her undergraduate degree at the University of Oregon in 1970. She earned a master's degree at the University of Hawaii in 1975, and an educational doctorate at the University of Southern California in 2004. She then went on to receive her honorary doctorate in philosophy from Fu Jen Catholic University in 2019.
Dr. Heine has always had a passion for education. Heine worked at Marshall Islands High School in Majuro from 1975 through 1982, serving both as a classroom teacher and as a counselor.
As well as education Dr. Heine has also powerfully carried a passion for Climate Action. She has noted that in her lifetime, floods have become more frequent and more intense. So too have droughts.
In 2016, in one of her first acts as President, Heine declared a state of emergency after the Marshall Islands received just a quarter of its usual rainfall from November to February.
Throughout her Presidency she was a focal voice within the mission of Pacific leaders to push for climate adaption and more importantly mitigation.
She was a strong advocate for Pacific women being recognised as leaders in mitigating the effects of climate change.
Dr. Heine spoke of how Pacific women needed to be included in more climate change decision-making.
In an interview Dr. Hilda C Heine spoke about the role of women in our region by saying, “Women are the backbone of family and community so I believe they should be the backbone of national leadership”, noting she hoped younger women would see her as a role model.
Hilda Heine still remains the only elected female politician to lead an island nation.