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Game changers: A sporting chance for Pacific women

Woman holding a basketball out to the camera.
Reaching for the future. A Hoops for Health Coaching Clinic graduate puts theory into practice in Port Moresby.

ABC: Aaron Kearney

They still face significant barriers to gender equality, but right across the Pacific brave and bold women are taking on the traditionally male-dominated realm of sport. That's something worth celebrating this International Women's Day.

Sport is a treasured part of Pacific life, particularly among its once-exclusively male custodians, so the increasing influence and visibility of women is both remarkable and hugely influential.

Many major sports for development programs, including four in Samoa, are led by women. The Australian Aid-funded Pacific Sports Partnerships' (PSP) programs reached more than 170,000 women in 2016, promoting health, gender equality and the importance of education, and when the PSP staged sports communication workshops across six Pacific nations, more women completed the courses than men.

But the statistics cannot reveal the individual stories of lives transformed by sport, so please enjoy this pictorial tour with the women of Pacific sport.

Woman sewing a bilum while sitting cross-legged on grass.
Daisy John's talent for creating bilums has led her to a job in sport. She now making the traditional hand-made Papua New Guinean carry bags for the NRL in PNG, which are then passed on as gifts and souvenirs to visiting dignitaries.

ABC: Aaron Kearney

A schoolgirl takes a break from a Hoops for Health basketball clinic in Kiribati
A schoolgirl takes a break from a Hoops for Health basketball clinic in Kiribati. Two female executives have recently been elected to the Kiribati Basketball Federation board.

ABC: Aaron Kearney

Woman kicking an AFL football.
Solomon Islands Women's AFL Development Officer Jane Hadassah. After being introduced to the game by visiting Australians at age 12, she is now charged with spreading the game throughout the Solomons and recruiting new players.

ABC: Aaron Kearney

Woman laughing.
PNG WaterAid WASH Sport for Development Program co-ordinator Leentje Be'soer shares a joke. The international charity wants to use volleyball to help reach remote areas with its sanitation and disease control program.

ABC: Aaron Kearney

Women practising swimming strokes on dry land.
Dry swimming in Tonga. Swimming strokes are sometimes learned outside the water to build confidence and promote fun.

ABC: Aaron Kearney

Women do a running training drill on a grass field.
The Solomon Islands Women's Rugby Sevens squad in training. Many women have faced pressure and even ridicule for breaking traditional cultural taboos by playing contact sports.

ABC: Aaron Kearney

Two women training on an indoor basketball court.
Pre-dawn commitment. The Fiji Women's Select team holds a pre-dawn training session ahead of a match against a Chinese team.

ABC: Aaron Kearney

Samoa Netball's National development manager, Ruta Schwalger talks to young players in Apia
Samoa Netball's National development manager, Ruta Schwalger talks to young players in Apia. Samoa's netball program is designed to make space for friendship and support between women.

ABC: Aaron Kearney

I-Kiribati table tennis player Nei Ren Itonga has her eyes on the ball.
I-Kiribati table tennis player Nei Ren Itonga. Lured to Te Toa Matoa by the Australian Aid-supported Smash Down Barriers Disability Table Tennis Program, she felt so welcome, Nei Ren convinced her husband to move house to be closer to the organisation.

ABC: Aaron Kearney

Mele Village players warm up before a Vanuatu Women's Island Cricket Championship match
Mele Village players warm up before a Vanuatu Women's Island Cricket Championship match. Players are provided with nutritional and parenting information, which is then shared in their villages.

ABC: Aaron Kearney

This story was produced by ABC International Development as part of the Pacific Sports Partnerships funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

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