At Eden Park stadium, no seat was empty as more than 40,000 people cheered on teams during the finals of the Rugby World Cup 2021. One team emerged victorious, but for child rights organisation ChildFund, this was also a victory for women and girls in rugby everywhere.
ChildFund Rugby is the first-ever Principal Charity for the women’s edition of Rugby World Cup.
“The RWC Women’s Edition broke so many records and the sell-out final was a perfect end to the event, which has supercharged the women’s game around the world. Seeing these athletes in action on and off the pitch has inspired women and girls across the world – including young women in New Zealand as part of leadership development across ChildFund Rugby partners,” said ChildFund Australia CEO, Margaret Sheehan.
“This event showed that rugby is truly a game for all – the levels of excitement generated from the event and the work of athletes off the pitch to be positive role models, has been incredible, and we are proud to have played a part in the event.”
Playing for impact
In-line with RWC2021 and in the lead-up to the finals, ChildFund Rugby started a campaign calling for gender equity through rugby. Titled Play for ImpACT, the campaign underscored the significant role women and girls play in the world of rugby and the importance of challenging negative gender stereotypes on and off the pitch.
ChildFund Rugby Partners, Ambassadors, and other supporters echoed the call for gender equity. The likes of rugby superstars Honey Hireme-Smiler, Mandisa Williams, and Charlotte Caslick talked about the impact of ChildFund Rugby’s partnerships on women and girls in rugby, after visiting the child rights organization’s partners in Fiji and South Africa.
“The girls are starting to speak up for themselves on how this impacts their lives and their development into a young strong woman,” said Hireme-Smiler in an interview, after visiting the girls of Get into Rugby PLUS – Fiji.
For ChildFund Rugby’s part, the support of Hireme-Smiler, Williams, Caslick, ChildFund Rugby Ambassadors Aimee Sutorius, Mere Baker and Emily Chancellor, along with the rest of the global rugby family can do so much to help future rugby superstars – at all levels of the game.
“By supporting ChildFund Rugby’s partnerships, you can create positive, evidenced impact through rugby. Your support will help young people, girls and boys, learn and practice skills that lead to positive decision making, gender equity and it will inspire the next generation of leaders through rugby,” said Chris Mastaglio, ChildFund Rugby Director.
A week before the last 80 minutes of RWC2021, dozens of women rugby leaders from different corners of the world travelled to New Zealand for Grassroots to Global Connect – a forum bringing together community leaders in rugby from around the world to build their leadership and advocacy skills. The women leaders from Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Philippines, Brazil, Mexico, USA, New Zealand, Fiji, Samoa, Cook Islands, Australia, Kenya, and Nepal are all part of the Grassroots to Global Series.
The Grassroots to Global Series unites female community rugby leaders from across countries and regions to improve the environment for girls and women at all levels, toward achieving World Rugby’s ambition of equity on and off the field.
The G2G Global Connect Forum held in New Zealand gave an opportunity to the community-based women leaders to identify and challenge barriers to their participation in rugby. The forum also strengthened the community leaders’ global network of women in rugby.
“The past nine days had been physically exhausting but emotionally fulfilling. It feels so empowering and humbling to be working with a group of women from all over the world who face the same challenges in sport,” said Lia Calingacion after the forum. Calingacion is a G2G representative from the Philippine Rugby Football Union.
“In the past four to five years of getting to know women’s rugby and finding my place in it, I now know why the sentence ‘I’m with you’ exists in rugby. Women rugby athletes and movers back each other up through challenges on and off the field. Women’s rugby is a fast-growing sport, and other people have yet to know that there is an awesome community behind this sport,” she added.
Rugby World Cup 2021 may have already ended with those 80 herstory-making minutes, but for ChildFund Rugby Partners, Ambassadors, and the global rugby family, this is just the opening whistle to the continued rise of women and girls in rugby.