Valery Wichman is a barrister and solicitor working for the Cook Islands Government. She is a leading campaigner for human rights in the Cooks.
Ask Valentino (Valery) Wichman what her greatest achievement is and she will point to her ongoing work to advance LGBTQI+ rights in the Cook Islands.
“Yes that’s my most proud achievement … creating a change in perception and behaviour around the same-sex decriminalisation campaign in the Cook Islands and campaigning for equality.”
In November 2019 the Cook Islands Parliament Select Committee reversed its decision to repeal the section/part of the Crimes Bill that made it illegal for same sex acts. In reponse, Valery gathered supporters to boost the Te Tiare Association (the local LGBTQI+ association). She also helped establish the Pride Cook Islands Campaign.
“There is still much to do but seeing our tamariki inspired and driven to be their authentic selves is priceless.”
Valery grew up in Rarotonga. In 2007 she enrolled in a conjoint BA/LLB at the University of Auckland and became a Tuakana Arts mentor. In 2009, she worked for the University’s Equity Office as a mentor to Pacific Island students from selected high schools.
“The University provided me with the enabling/critical environment to develop my passion for helping people,” she says.
Since graduating, most of Valery’s professional work has been in the Cook Islands working for the government in a variety of roles, most recently as Director of Central Policy and Planning. That includes work on the Cook Islands National Population Policy and the its 2020+ National Sustainable Development Agenda.
“I never really had concrete plans after leaving university – but my various roles have definitely helped me evolve in a positive way.”
In 2016, the year Valery was admitted as a barrister and solicitor to the High Court in New Zealand, she also won a Queen’s Young Leaders Award for championing LGBTQI+ rights in her home country.
Valery says her family have stood by her “through thick and thin” as her main support. “What I’ve learned is how important it is to listen before responding… to understand the full context of a situation.
“So patience would be the key word for me.”