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There are fewer women in politics in the Pacific Islands than in any other part of the world, according to UN Women. But this year Samoa elected a woman as its head of government – only the second Pacific Island nation to do so – thanks in part to a network of women friends who supported her every step of the way.

“This is the margarita circle,” the first woman prime minister of Samoa says, raising a salt-rimmed cup. “It’s a place for honest confessions.”

Her friends raise their glasses.

Manuia!” they reply – “Cheers!”

It’s a Sunday afternoon and a group of around 10 have just left the village church to gather for a buffet lunch on the veranda of Fiame Naomi Mata’afa’s family home in Lotofaga village.

Behind them, the clear South Pacific ocean twinkles just beyond a strip of white sand.

“Do you remember how this particular journey started for us?” asks Tauiliili Alise Stunnenberg, an independent tourism consultant and Fiame’s distant cousin.

“It was just over a year ago,” replies the prime minister, “the day after I resigned.”

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