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Tackling Violence Against Women Through Rugby League

Papua New Guinea (PNG) is the only country in the world that considers Rugby League to be its national sport. Sadly, it also has one of the world's highest rates of violence against women. It has been estimated that at least 70% of women and girls in Papua New Guinea will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. Not for profit organisation Rugby League Against Violence uses Rugby League to prevent violence against women by encouraging gender equality and respectful relationships.

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The organisation’s flagship program, Equal Playing Field, is an 8-week schools based program that uses Rugby to teach young people how to develop healthy, respectful relationships with their peers, parents and partners. Over the eight weeks, 12 and 13 year-old boys form teams and rotate between refining their on-field skills in recreational ‘tag’ matches and participating in fun, interactive educational talks – known as “The Sheds.”

It is in these classes that Equal Playing Field differentiates itself from other sport related youth education programs. This is because Rugby league is not just used as a carrot in attracting participants, but a vehicle to help teach, discuss and understand vital life lessons in a way that is safe, effective andmost importantly, enjoyable.Topics discussed during Equal Playing Field include understanding violence and abuse, rights and responsibilities, gender equality and positive self-talk. Discussions always focus on reinforcing positive behavior, while challenging the beliefs and attitudes that allow violence against women to happen.

In March 2013, RLAV delivered Equal Playing Field to 200 boys and girls from Morata, one of Port Moresby’s most notorious urban settlements.The program was delivered by 26 national youth volunteers who underwent formal training in sports and coaching, child protection and advocacy. The program received widespread positive feedback from participants, volunteers, and the Morata community.

In the future, RLAV plans to scale up its programs to other areas of Papua New Guinea. Rugby League Against Violence is currently looking to form partnerships with corporations and development organisations who are interested in supporting innovative and evidence based initiatives to end violence against women in Papua New Guinea. In exchange, the organisation can offer meaningful opportunities for your staff to contribute to its work.

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Photo of Janice Wong

Being from the land of the All Blacks, it is thrilling for me to see rugby used as a vehicle for conversation around ending violence against women. Thanks for sharing this program with us.