blog / Pacific Women’s Empowerment through Sport

Fri, 18 December, 2015

Pacific Women’s Empowerment through Sport

The struggle for the safety and equality of females remains one of the central human rights causes globally. In the Pacific, equality educators are using grassroots sports programs to empower girls and women, instill healthy lifestyles, and spread messages encouraging people to change the existing culture of violence.

 

On 25 November, The International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women (White Ribbon Day), some 20 teen girls from two Port Moresby high schools participated in a showcase cricket match. The teenagers, hailing from Marianville Secondary School and Jubilee Secondary College, were brought together to show off their skills as part of the Kriket Bilong Olgeta (KBO) program.

Funded by Australia and delivered by Cricket PNG, as part of the Pacific Sports Partnerships Program, Kriket Bilong Olgeta provides women, girls and people with disabilities the opportunity to play cricket together, whilst promoting healthier lifestyles, social inclusion, and respect for all people. 

Kriket Bilong Olgeta is one of many sports programs capitalising on the popularity of team sports and respect for athletes in the Pacific, in order to highlight the capabilities of women to participate in and excel at areas of public life that have long been dominated by men.

As one student quoted by Australia Plus said:

‘This game is a nice game where everyone can participate in and relay the message to stop violence against women [...] Females in the country have every right to take part in every game.”

And for the women and girls who participate in Kriket Bilong Olgeta, the program can bolster self confidence, opening minds to possibilities and doors to opportunity. Australia Plus quotes KBO Coordinator Vaianna Gabba, who says being involved in the program has changed her life:

“Personally, through this program I have been selected as one of the non-travelling reserves in the Lewas team.  Through this program I have been boosted.  It is one of the greatest achievements for me.”

The big picture aim of the program is cultural change - ending society’s tolerance of violence against women. The White Ribbon Day cricket match was opened by Lady Winifred Kamit CBE, relating lessons about violence in PNG to the students.  

Student Leonnie Ana got the message:

“In PNG, everybody thinks [violence] is normal but through this [event] the message is to stop violence”.

And another young student summed up the message succinctly:

“It means we must stop violence in the home”.

~

In addition to marking White Ribbon Day, the showcase cricket match marked the beginning of ‘16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence’, a sixteen day period where programs and events are held worldwide focusing on eliminating violence against females. 

The campaign is marked by the UN, governments and civil society organisations around the world. Consider these statistics: more than 1 in 3 women have been abused, coerced into sex or beaten globally. The perpetrator of that violence is more often than not someone she knows - a partner or relative(s). And disabled females are most at risk. 

Because contributing factors to violence against females are multifaceted - including misogyny and sexism, patriarchy, “honour” cultures, acceptance of violence and victim blaming - the solution to this deep-rooted and disturbing problem has to be multifaceted too.

A multifaceted approach to ending the violence includes strategies for prevention, treatment, and national and international legal responses to punish perpetrators. It is now recognised that sports programs can play an integral part of prevention strategies targeting cycles of violence and misogyny.

This is evidenced by the international recognition received this year by Pacific Volleyball Partnership (PVP), a volleyball program for women age 17-85 across the Pacific. Fiji Volleyball Federation received a nomination for a Beyond Sport Award, winning the Sport Federation Or Governing Body Of The Year honour.

PVP was developed by Fiji Volleyball Federation in conjunction with Volleyball Australia and Australian Aid. It targets ethnic Fijian women in villages in Rewa province, on the outskirts of Suva. PVP takes a long term approach, aiming to transform behaviours and lifestyles through the domains of diet and physical activity.

Semaima Lagilagi, the program manager, travelled to London to be at the awards. Though the award was unexpected, Lagilagi obviously appreciates how essential community, grass roots initiatives like theirs are when it comes to cultural change.

According to research conducted by Fiji Volleyball Federation in 2014, women and girls are under-represented in many critical spaces - including sports. Lagilagi spoke to Australia Plus about the challenge of raising the status of females in a patriarchal culture.

The first challenge was gaining support for women participating in sports. She said that engagement of a male advocate to be the face and the voice of the program was essential to initially gaining the community’s support:

“The elders and men hold a lot of power and influence in the villages [...] A series of consultation and discussions is very important and contributed to the success of implementing the activities in the villages.”

“Educating the men on the crucial role women play in the society and the importance of their health has changed attitudes in the communities.”

In addition to shifting attitudes and opening minds to the notion that women moving into previously male dominated spaces benefits the whole community, PVP has a real impact on physical health and wellbeing. 

Twice as many women than men are obese, and in villages in Rewa province, women lack safe and accessible opportunities to participate in sport and/or physical activity. 

Running sports programs for females in both rural and urban areas not only provides those safe accessible opportunities, but also gives females the opportunity to develop their leadership potential, and achieve things - boosting self cofidence, feelings of self worth, and interest in further self care and self development.

 

WORDS by Pauline Vetuna.

Image Credits:

Images 1-5: ‘Kriket Bilong Olgeta’ images supplied by Kristie Brown, DFAT.

Images 6-8: courtesy of Kate Millar via Fiji Volleyball Federation Facebook page.

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