With the FIFA Women’s World Cup poised to sharpen the focus on opportunities for women in football, four female leaders from across the Pacific have spoken about their experiences as pioneering women in football, in a part of the world where men tend to occupy key roles in both sport and society.
The women from Fiji, Samoa, Solomon Islands and Tonga are participants in the Pacific Women’s Sports Leadership Program (PWSLP), funded by the Australian Government, which brings together women in sports leadership roles across the Pacific. It combines professional development workshops, knowledge sharing, networking and career planning, with the long-term aim of equipping women to be leaders in their communities and countries, not just in sport.
In a short film about the program released on the eve of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, the women reflect on the challenges of being a female leader in sport, and how the program has equipped them to develop personally, and guide others around them.
“We need more women leaders within sports within our own country. So many times, they’re all just men,” observed Maria Rarawa, who works for the Solomon Islands Football Federation as the program manager for Just Play, a program that uses football activities to deliver key health and social messages in the community.
Rarawa is one of 22 women who took part in the most recent phase of the PWSLP in Samoa in late 2018 alongside participants working across seven countries, nine sports and four cross-sector sporting organisations.
She was joined by football colleagues Lia Batirerega (Just Play coordinator with the Fiji Football Association), Lynetta Laumea-Edward (Just Play program manager with Football Federation Samoa) and Palu Uhatahi Tu’amoheloa (Just Play program manager with the Tonga Football Assocation).
Just Play (which is funded by the Australian Government through the Pacific Sports Partnerships, the New Zealand Government, the Football Federation of Australia, the UEFA Foundation for Children and UNICEF) has blazed a trail for women in sports leadership in the Pacific, employing female program managers in each of the eight countries in which it runs.
Through the week-long PWSLP workshop, participants were encouraged to explore their purpose, values, personal leadership journey and map out the next steps in that journey.
“The program has motivated me to keep going strong,” revealed Laumea-Edward. “I believe that I have a purpose in life and, coming here is one of my purposes…to learn from everyone and to share my experiences with all the women leaders in sports. We don’t talk about our lives most of the time, but sharing our lives with our fellow sisters is really inspiring. At the end of the day, (I want to) become an influential leader.”
“It has changed my perception of who I am and what I am capable of doing,” added Rarawa. “I tell myself that I can do it, and I tell my team the same. That there is no ‘I can't’ but, instead, ‘I will try’ and ‘I can’.”
The PWSLP is part of a range of initiatives under the Australian Government’s Pacific Sports Partnerships (PSP) program, designed to create inclusive sport participation opportunities that promote health and social outcomes. PSP is delivered through partnerships between Australian, regional and Pacific island sports organisations to encourage shared learning and capacity building.
The PWSLP is a collaboration between Cricket Australia, the International Cricket Council, and Netball Australia and began in 2016 in Papua New Guinea. It is delivered in partnership with Conversant, an Australian-based leadership organisation, and Weightless Films, with support from the International Table Tennis Federation and FIBA.