(Pictured from left to right, Khalida Popal, Sarai Bareman and Annabelle Williams. Photo Credit: OFC Media)

Oceania Football Confederation’s (OFC) Social Responsibility team, along with OFC General Secretary Franck Castillo attended the Gender Equality Symposium co-hosted by Australia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister for Sport last week in Brisbane, Australia. 

Hosting the FIFA 2023 Women’s World Cup in the region presents a unique opportunity to highlight progress made in women’s sport, and to set the tone for further work in promoting women’s sport and gender equality. Symposium provides a space to bring together global leaders, emerging women leaders, industry experts, government representatives and athletes.  

There was a very inspiring line-up of speakers such as Hon Penny Won, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Fatma Samoura, FIFA Secretary General to help inspire action and connection on gender equality and the human rights of women and girls through the power of sport.  

Women in Media Programme Participants, Photo: OFC Media

The contributions of OFC’s and our Member Associations to Gender Equality in the Pacific played a prominent role in the Symposium.

Two Pacific women commentators and mobile journalists from the Women In Media programme delivered by ABC International Development in partnership with OFC, highlighted the importance of building capacity and amplifying opportunities for women in media.  

Whilst Sarai Bareman, Chief Women’s Football Officer for FIFA, delivered a heartfelt account of the power of football to change lives with her account of the impact of the Just Play Programme in rural areas of Savai’i and how it is an example of how sport can be a powerful driver for inclusion. 

The positive impact of these activities was evident for Bareman through her trip to villages in Savaii where Just Play worked with children with intellectual disabilities who were often confined to their homes by their families.

“I will never forget this moment… They weren’t leaving the house because there was a stigma around these children. It was through this football programme that we encouraged these families and parents to bring their children out and these young boys and girls with intellectual disabilities played with other kids from the village,” recounts Bareman. 

Photo: Shane Wenzlick / www.phototek.nz

This was an incredible moment that demonstrated the power of football and its life-changing impacts not only for the children but for the parents who now understood they did not need to hide their child, and that there was no shame in having a disability. 

“The parents of those children, some of them were crying, just the emotion of seeing their child interacting and having fun with those other children. It was that programme that changed the lives of those families and children indefinitely.” Said Bareman.  

“It was football and this activity that did that, that is imprinted in me forever it’s why I love this job and what we do, it was sport that enabled those children to live beyond the confines of their house.” 

The Symposium marked the end of the first week of the Women’s World Cup and was a great opportunity to highlight some of the impact of the tournament on our wider region through OFC’s Pacific Legacy Programme. The Women in Media Programme is delivered in partnership with FIFA, Team UP and ABCID. It will run until the end of 2023 providing opportunities for women from across the Asia Pacific region to get into sports journalism and commentary.   

Further legacy activities continue next week with participation by eight of OFC’s member countries in Festival 23 – a Football for Development festival bringing together practitioners from over 60 countries, while OFC is working with FIFA and other event partners to ensure opportunities for fan engagement across Oceania.