Women in sport: lessons from Samoa
Team Up-supported programs in Samoa are predominantly managed and delivered by women. With this being rare in sport globally, we explore the lessons that can be learnt from Samoa.
Of the five programs that Team Up supports in Samoa, four have women leaders and all have a majority of female staff.
During a recent Team Up workshop in Samoa, representatives from our Samoa-based programs reflected on how they have succeeded in attracting and retaining women in sport and sport for development, and identified several key themes:
“We are creating more safe spaces for women in sport by hiring female staff to work with women’s clubs, giving primary school clubs female role models, and encouraging women to take up off-field roles in rugby league as volunteers and coaches,” explains Frances Gaufa Salesa from NRL Samoa. “Our female staff who go into schools and coach girls’ teams are also rugby league players, and we invite the girls to come and watch us play so they can see us on the field tackling and running and they think, ‘I want to be like my coach’. We also focus on how rugby league is not just a physical game but builds relationships outside of the field.”
“The Healthy Nanas program has attracted women as staff because our job descriptions and our organisation’s culture focus on empowering women,” explains Tapai Talaifono from Samoa International Cricket Association. “In the workplace, when a woman wants to build up another woman, they just click.”
“One thing we need to do more of is that women need to uplift each other in a male-dominated world,” agrees Justine Samu from Netball Samoa. “Sometimes women are just trying to stay in leadership positions, but we need to bring the next women up there with us.”
“Rugby union is a male-dominated sport but launching the Get into Rugby PLUS program in Samoa, which focuses on gender equality and reducing violence, has really helped increase the number of women staff, coaches, volunteers and administrators that we have,” explains Toluiva Keneti from Lakapi Samoa. “Through Get into Rugby PLUS we are creating opportunities for training and education, and this helps women realise that rugby union is also a place to upskill themselves, both on and off the field.”
Maupenei Asafo from Football Federation Samoa agrees that providing training opportunities is a key factor that attracts women as coaches and volunteers. “Through running leadership training and workshops, we have a lot of women volunteering. All the staff of Just Play in Samoa are women. We give them support, create role models, and promote roles through social media so that women can see these roles are for them.”
Keneti revealed what motivated her to begin working with rugby union as a tool to address violence. “Several years ago, there was a high-profile incident in Samoa of a woman being killed by her partner while holding her baby, and it was witnessed by her young son. It really affected me and made me think, ‘what is rugby union doing?’ Rugby is like a second religion in Samoa so it made me think, ‘what am I doing about this, how can I help, and how can I use rugby?’ In 2015 I established what is now an annual Rugby 7s tournament with the theme of ending violence, during the 16 Days of Activism (against gender-based violence). For me, this is my calling – to save the life of another mother, because I’m a Mum myself and I wouldn’t accept my son being a perpetrator of violence or my daughter being a victim of violence.”
Talaifono shared how the Healthy Nanas program is using cricket as a vehicle to change the way people think about women in Samoa. “Our participants are stay-at-home Mums, some of whom had babies at a young age and didn’t have the opportunity to finish their education. But the program we are offering provides other educational opportunities for them, even though they may not have the opportunity to go back to finish school or university. Teaching them other skills and changing their mindset is important too. People tend to think stay-at-home Mums are useless, just looking after the kids and doing all the chores. But the Mums in our program tell us that they are thankful for the opportunities they have, because it has given them a different mindset and a different kind of knowledge – how to survive rather than the knowledge you get from formal education. We have learnt that educating these women can really change their families and change the village. This results in them sharing what they have learnt with other people, and it can change all of Samoa.”