A new initiative plans to use rugby to help prevent violence against women and promote gender equality in the Pacific.

An estimated two in three Pacific women are impacted by gender-based violence, twice the global average.

The acting representative for UN Women in the Pacific, Nicolas Burniat, said sport, and particularly rugby, is a key lever for change in the Pacific.

He said it can dismantle preconceived ideas of gender roles and abilities of men and women.

“So you can use sports to really illustrate the fact that men and women can do the same thing, can do anything,” he said.

“I talk a lot about the recent Rugby Sevens World Cup where the performance of the 16 women’s teams that participated just showed to everybody there’s no such thing as a man’s sport anymore, right? Women can play sport [and] not only can they play sport, they can play rugby.”

The Fijiana huddle during day two of the Paris Sevens.

The Fijiana women’s sevens team competed at the recent Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco and are a core team on the World Series. Photo: Mike Lee – KLC fotos for World Rugby

“Get Into Rugby PLUS” is a joint-project between Oceania Rugby and UN Women, with support from the Australian Government, Rugby Australia and the European Union.

Tihrani Uluinakauvadra is leading the coaching aspect of the programme and said selected school teachers in Fiji will receive training in both rugby related areas and life-skill themes to pass on to the budding young players.

“Fiji is probably the best, the easiest place to try and pilot this programme since they have made a big breakthrough in terms of allowing women to participate in rugby and they have defied odds when it comes to a traditional belief that rugby is only played by men,” he said.

UN Women is backing the Fijiana 15s Rugby team to help tackle gender inequality in sport.

UN Women has previously worked with Fiji Rugby to help tackle gender inequality in sport. Photo: UN Women/Davidson

Adam Thomas from Oceania Rugby said as well as learning how tackle, pass and side-step, the students will learn how to challenge gender stereotypes and address some of the primary drivers of violence against women.

“These life skills have been developed with input from all our partners and basically after a rugby sessions the kids are brought together and a deep discussion is facilitated with their coaches,” he said.

“They’re based on rugby values but they’re linked to the drivers of violence against women, gender equality, life skills, resilience and a whole range of different things. That’s the basis and that’s how we’re going to use sport to actually change the issue.”

Ratu Kadavulevu School proved too strong for New Zealand's Hastings Boys High School.

An equal split of boys and girls from 12 to 17 will take part in the “Get Into Rugby PLUS” pilot. Photo: Facebook/Sanix World Rugby Youth Tournament

Adam Thomas said Oceania Rugby is also partnering with UN Women to better understand the interaction between violence against women and girls and sport in the Pacific Islands.

“So this research basically looks at the correlation between violence and sports participation in the Pacific,” he said.

“Sports participation in terms of actually playing and also attending events in the community and elite-level events as well to see what relationship there actually is.

“We’re putting together a working group at the moment and we’ve invited other sports in the Pacific to take place, so hopefully by the end of that we will have four of the biggest sports in the Pacific with rugby and UN Women working on this research piece, with a selected university.”

The “Get Into Rugby PLUS” programme kicks off next month and runs for ten weeks.

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