Women making a difference in the Pacific

Ema Vereivalu was six years old when her family moved from Fiji to the UK. With every visit home to her native island she noticed little had changed.

So she decided to make a difference. When she moved back to Fiji in 2012 Vereivalu began to design a multi-sports business that was aimed at getting women and young girls involved in sport.

A chance meeting with the NRL exposed her to the things she wanted to introduce and she is now one of four managers across the Pacific who run the game’s Pacific Outreach program in her country.  

"It was sad to see that not much had changed every four years when we would go home," Vereivalu said.

"In 2012 I was coming back with a plan and a goal – to see if I could have any sort of influence with getting more women and girls involved in sport both on and off the field.

"At first it was challenging seeing the responses, the type of questioning, and the mindset that some people have towards women in our community.

"It's been a working process and it still currently is, however the major thing is that we are getting outcomes and attitudes have shifted."

The NRL's Pacific Outreach program is aimed at using rugby league to engage and develop Pacific communities to improve in areas like health, gender equality (with a particular focus on prevention of gender-based violence), social cohesion,  and disability participation, along with building the game's profile.

The program is run in Fiji, PNG, Samoa and Tonga, with three-quarters of these countries having female managers - Vereivalu is the youngest.

The 27 year-old said moving from a game development role in 2015 to her current management role in Fiji, meant she had to find the confidence to speak up so change could occur.

"I used to shy away and not want to be the centre of attention. But after taking on this manager role I have seen the importance of standing up and taking the lead in the effort to make a difference.

"I still have a lot more experience to gain and a lot more to learn. However, if I am leading by example it will go a long way in encouraging other women and young girls to do the same."

With women taking on senior roles off the field it was only fitting that more opportunities were created for the women and young girls playing the game.

Jillaroos v the PNG Orchids
Jillaroos v the PNG Orchids ©Nathan Hopkins/NRL Photos

Not only has there been changes made in Australia with the inclusion of the NRLW, but the NRL have plans to welcome more internationals for Pacific women’s teams – starting with Fiji taking on the PNG Orchards at this year’s Pacific Test series in June.

NRL Pacific Programs Manager, Michael Asensio, said it had been great for young girls to see so many amazing female role models involved in the game.

“The game has made drastic changes with females involved on and off the field, “ Asensio said.

"And the women never fail to go above and beyond for this game - showing young girls that they too can be leaders and can aspire to any career they set their minds to. 

"We have some incredible female role models and if these young girls can see it they can be it."