Earlier this month three of  OFC’s Just Play programme managers embarked on an inspiring journey to San Francisco as apart of The Women Win Exchange Programme.

Women Win, together with host partners Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) and Tonga Table Tennis Federation have shaped a cross-cultural exchange programme working towards the creation of inclusive communities through sport. This initiative focuses on empowering young leaders and coaches from Fiji and Tonga, fostering their growth, enhancing their leadership abilities, and improving their capacity and capability.

The theme for the programme is Sport for social change, this year supporting a specific focus on gender equality and tackling gender-based violence through sports-based programmes.

The exchange programme is facilitated by OFC’s Legacy Programme, which utilises football as a powerful tool for positive change and addressing social inequities, particularly in combating violence against women and girls. The Legacy Programme aims to create opportunities, empower women and increase participation and retention across all areas of the game.

Palu Uhatahi Tu’amoheloa, Filomena Liku and Matelita Vuakoso sat down with OFC media to reflect on the opportunity of a lifetime.

OFC: Why do you think sports for social change and gender-based violence (GBV) are important areas for football to address?

PUT: “I just returned from the Pacific Summit for Gender-Based Violence. I have witnessed the work that many NGOs have done on the horizon in regard to GBV in Oceania, the prevention method and the mitigation method utilised in the United States were mind-blowing.

Looking at sports platforms in Oceania and the opportunities that it holds to educate youth, children, players or athletes, parents, spectators and administrators on GBV is huge. Working in the sport arena we should hold the same passion towards sport and also towards safety, and protecting those involved from harm and abuse.”

FL:  “Sport plays a significant role in our individual lives influencing our decision-making and giving more opportunities to overcome barriers especially that is faced by children, girls and women in this society. It is also good for social development and helps us achieve changes by equalising everyone on the playing field through sports.”

MV: “GBV is an issue that we currently face in country, in Oceania and even at a global level. I believe the application of sport in combating GBV is practical. The team environment can offer a space to share concerns and experiences and sports programs or sports itself can be a positive force to each individual, especially to young girls and women not only on the field but off the field as well.”

OFC: What are some key learnings or messages that you have gained from the programme?

PUT: “The ability to provide services such as consultations for young generations who are more problematic or need help within sport arena is what we lack here in the Pacific. To equip our administrators or coaches not just with technical skills but advance into inclusive social and psychological solutions based on their roles and responsibilities.”

FL: “We don’t only focus on social messages but we can go beyond to engage and impact more children out there. We can make use of the resources around us to help us achieve our goal.”

MV: “With good research and evidence, sports can be used as a tool  to  create various programmes to suit different target groups based on the need of society, community or country level which includes programmes to combat gender based violence.”

OFC: Also attending the programme were women involved in a variety of sports. How has this added to your experience?

PUT: “Attending this program with other women from different sports, has been a motivation. We see things from different angles of sports but it’s important to share our ideas for the positive impact of the games we are passionate about to avoid conflicts. We create a brave space together with the same goal, the same fight we can win this battle against gender-based violence.”

FL: “Most of the programs we went to are managed or led by women. Something that I can empower unemployed women in my country to do is get occupied in activities that can open up opportunities.  If men can fight in the ring women can do that too. It’s all in the mindset. Very interesting.”

MV: “Networking with these women has given me an opportunity to continue to see that all girls and women need to be empowered whether they are just participating in sport, competing as well as having leadership roles in the sports industry. Also, it was an opportunity to listen to honest conversations, listen to each other’s stories and cross-learning about the various role we play and programmes.”

OFC: Why are women’s programmes and opportunities such as the Women’s Win Exchange programme important? 

PUT: “We always want to be surrounded by positive people and Women Win has been amazing with this. The passion sports for development is evident during this exchange by hosting two different countries internationally is something to be promoted. We learn a new culture, taste new food, and new environment and learn new ideas that add to both our personal and professional development.”

FL: “They have engaged a lot of women and have connected hem to other sports partners that help them to be a life changer. They have been empowering other women around the world to take up opportunities and be the change. So yes it is important to work in partnership with them.”

MV: “I believe it is an awesome opportunity for women to come together to share their stories and be in a space to empower one another, learn and enhance knowledge and skills. And be an advocate for other women as well as respective organisations that are running great sports programmes that address social challenges. It is also an opportunity for cross-cultural learning and a chance to step out of your comfort zone and experience unfamiliar situations.”

OFC: What was the highlight of your trip and why?

PUT: “The opportunity to lead a group from different sports, different gender and inclusively within a short time is something for me. Being a Leader learning from other Leaders with their experience and different approaches applied to combatting GBV were the highlights of this trip.”

FL: “Meeting new people in the team, learning and grasping as much as possible. Also visiting new places and adventures. Because this opportunity will only come once, it can be another one but will not be the same, enjoy and live in the moment.”

MV: “Visiting the RYSE Centre. RYSE provides all members free services from free food, workshop/ programs in arts, health and wellness, youth organising, college, career development and other. The building was designed by youths and programmes were developed based on youth recommendations. So I can say it was designed by the youth for the youth.”

OFC: What advice would you give to any young woman wanting to work in the sporting space?

PUT:”Sport is a wonderful platform that gives you a sense of belonging, fits you in easily and will develop you individually and professionally.”

FL: “It’s not too late to explore new things, be consistence, Be responsible and always trust your instinct. Whatever you do, do it with your whole loving heart.”

MV: “Sports is interesting and has a lot to offer. If you choose the right field to be in within sports, you will enjoy every moment of it.”