OFC, UN Women Fiji Multi-Country Office (MCO) and other key officials met in Suva this week to discuss the fundamental good that football, and sport in general, can play in the lives of women and girls in the Pacific towards ending violence.

The key messages that were discussed and promoted where how our Member Associations can develop equality for our women’s footballers and provide positive role models for both girls and boys, which in turn can help end gender-based violence in the region. It was our great pleasure to partner with UN Women on this event and welcome their expertise. UN Women’s partnership with OFC is through the Pacific Partnership to End Violence Against Women and Girls (Pacific Partnership), funded primarily by the European Union, and the Governments of Australia and New Zealand, and UN Women.

The conference was attended by various officials from OFC, with special guest speakers Dr. Johanna Wood from the FIFA Council and OFC Executive Committee, Lavenia Yalovi, Makelesi Bulikiobo and Inoke Bainimarama. The esteemed speakers gave a press conference that summarised the day’s discussions, which was chaired by Sonia Rastogi, UN Women Fiji MCO’s Ending Violence Against Women and Girls Technical Specialist (Primary Prevention).

For Dr. Wood, one of the most positive aspects of this journey is that “we’re not alone.”

“There are many others on this journey with us. It’s about transferring this commitment and partnership with UN Women and OFC in the Pacific that’s important, so the key is to translate that commitment from just words in a book to commitment on the ground. What can we do? What are the realities?”

Former Olympic sprinter Bulikiobo spoke on behalf of Child Fund Sport for Development. For her, the focus on safeguarding the rights and dignity of women and girls involved in sport was a key issue.

“It’s about ensuring that everyone who plays sport, whether it’s football, rugby, track and field or netball, regardless of gender or ethnic backgrounds have a safe space to learn and compete. That they are safe without any discrimination from team mates, coaches, administrators or even family members.

“The Fund for Development is about applying a strong safeguarding system…and supporting administrations in their programmes to make that happen. This includes developing systems, hiring practices and background checks, training and onboarding and codes of conduct for case management and case support. Sports organisations are not equipped to deal with child protection, so this requires specialist assistance.”

Bainimarama, who is with the Oceania National Olympic Committees (ONOC) spoke about the sort of support that sports can get from their higher governing bodies to help prevent violence against women. His background in rugby administration, which is the most popular sport in Fiji, meant that he has had experience in changing attitudes towards gender-based violence.

“Gender equality is enshrined in the IOC Charter. If you fast forward to where we are now, we have Agenda 2020+5. We are responsible for our members committing themselves to the indicators that we’ve come up with.

One of the key indicators was participation.

“In developing the men’s competition, you must equally develop the women’s. In developing officials, the same. Administrators, coaches. The other intervention is around leadership, making sure that we have women who are in positions that are influential when it comes to making decisions.”

The aim of this is to make sure that the best decisions for women’s safety are being made at the highest levels, so that thinking can freely filter down and benefit our female players.

Yalovi, who represented Fiji in three sports, talked about her experience specifically to do with coaching, and how it creates positive change.

“I am here as someone who started playing for fun at grassroots level and ended up representing Fiji in three different sports. The journey was never easy. You talk about gender equality now, you walk into a sports field now and you still hear people calling names. But through the continuous work of everyone, sports are becoming a safe space not only for girls, but women as well.

Sonia Rastogi, Dr. Johanna Wood, Lavenia Yalovi, Makelesi Bulikiobo and Inoke Bainimarama hold the OFC Women’s Nations Cup. CREDIT: OFC Media

“We’re striving for gender equality, but gender equity is the main goal. I believe that working with organisations such as FIFA, OFC, the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre and Child Fund we can provide safe sports with women and girls out there.”

The conference has run all week in Suva and has been a great success in both sharing ideas and connecting our Member Associations after a long period of isolation due to the pandemic. It will conclude on Friday, as the Women’s Nations Cup gears up for a big weekend of action in Suva.