A record number of close to 400 girls are converging at Prince Charles Park in Nadi today for the National Women’s Age Grade Provincial Sevens Rugby.
In just its second year, the competition has almost tripled in size, from 12 girls’ teams competing in 2017 to 32 teams this year with 384 girls participating.
This reflects the increasing focus on equal participation in rugby – for women and men and for girls and boys – by Oceania Rugby and Fiji Rugby Union that in the past year has resulted in double the number of provinces* to have women rugby teams.
Using rugby to promote gender equality and, longer term, to prevent violence against women is also central to an agreement between Oceania Rugby and UN Women Fiji MCO, made possible through the new Pacific Partnership to End Violence Against Women and Girls (Pacific Partnership) funded by the European Union and Australian Government with support from UN Women.
“In Fiji, there is sometimes the perception that rugby is a sport only for men and not women. The Pacific is still a very patriarchal society and that’s embedded in everything, it is great to see that mindset proved wrong in the incredibly competitive women’s matches today,” said Cathy Wong, Women’s Director Oceania Rugby.
“The provincial areas of Fiji are where many of the national men’s team members come from yet the same cannot be said for the national women’s teams. One of the identified reasons or barriers for this is the lack of organisational pathways for women in provincial areas. Regular competitions would facilitate women to play more regularly and enhance performance.”
“It is clear today, however, that these women and senior girls are just as dedicated, competent and driven to excel in rugby, as the men players. Rugby is a sport clearly suited to, and enjoyed by, both men and women equally,” she said.
The one-day National Women’s Age Grade Provincial 7s is hosted by the Fiji Rugby Union in partnership with Oceania Rugby, and supported by gender equality partner UN Women through the Pacific Partnership.
Gender Based Violence Awareness for Rugby Players and Parents
Prior to the competition, a gender-based violence awareness session was held for girl rugby players and their parents to better understand the importance of gender equality and equal participation, both on and off the field including in their community.
Two separate awareness sessions were held in Nausori on 7 December, engaging players from the Tailevu Under 15 Years girls team, who were joined by their mothers.
Participants discussed gender inequalities in sport and the challenges faced by females wanting to play rugby; the positive support from women coaches; violence against women and girls in sports including sexual assault; and the referral pathway for survivors of violence to seek support.
The parents also talked about noticing an increase in self-confidence of the girl players with particular thanks to the support and encouragement of coaches. The session concluded with the mothers committing to pass-on information about the referral pathways and to encourage other women and girls in their community to talk more about ending violence against women and girls.
The sessions were led by UN Women, as part of its partnership with Oceania Rugby to promote gender equality and longer term to prevent violence against women, supported by the new Pacific Partnership funded by the European Union and Australian Government with support from UN Women.