In The Words Of Oripa Lee: “There are so many changes…behaviour is one”

Date: Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Oripa Lee from Fiji is a teacher and coach part of the Get into Rugby PLUS programme which aims to promote gender equitable norms, attitudes and behaviours, and prevent violence against women and girls and by doing so, strengthen inclusion in the sport. She is of the many school coaches’ part of Oceania Rugby and UN Women’s partnership initiative, that is helping to ‘balance the scales’ on and off the rugby field.

Oripa Lee, teacher and coach, part of the Get into Rugby PLUS programme in Fiji. Photo: UN Women/Shazia Usman

Oripa Lee from Fiji is part of the Get into Rugby PLUS programme which aims to promote gender equitable norms, attitudes and behaviours, and prevent violence against women and girls and by doing so, strengthen inclusion in the sport. The programme builds upon World Rugby’s Get Into Rugby development programme which provides a safe and inclusive playing environment, and adds life skills that support girls and boys in a process of critical thinking and reflection around issues of gender, power, respectful relationships and peer pressure, all built around Rugby Values – respect, integrity, solidarity, discipline and passion.

 

My name is Oripa Lee and I am from Waciwaci, Lakeba, in Lau. I teach at a primary school in Lautoka. I have been teaching for 20 years. My school was chosen to be part of the Fiji - Get Into Rugby PLUS Lifeskills programme. Our school was privileged to be part of this pilot programme, and I am the only coach in this programme in my school. With this programme we support girls and boys in schools with a safe and inclusive playing environment and build their skills so they can think and talk more openly about gender, respectful relationships, impact of peer pressure, values, and power. These are all taught through our rugby values, which is integrity, solidarity, respect, discipline, and passion. I see this programme contributing to the upbringing up of our future leaders. There are so many changes I am seeing in the students – behaviour is one. Not only do they openly share their problems with me, but they have also started sharing with their parents, compared to previous years.

The students came with all these preconceived ideas that girls cannot play rugby and the gendered roles in their homes and power dynamics between women and men, girls, and boys and even adults and children. Some even shared about the verbal abuse they receive from their teachers. Our sessions together are really helping them open-up and analyse things critically – they used to be so shy before. I work with 13 – 14-year-olds mostly.

My group is also very multiracial. This was not the case last year. Last year we just gave consent forms to the students and only some parents allowed their children to participate, but this year we had a consultation session with parents at school and once they became more aware of the programme and its benefits, they were more willing for their children, especially their daughters, to sign-up, and that was amazing!

Running this programme in my school has really challenged me - but in a good way - as I am now a more patient teacher. I have learned a lot from the girls as well. It’s not just them learning from me during the sessions. The programme has changed me in my role as a coach too - I now incorporate the values of rugby every time I'm involved with teams.

There is a lot of power imbalance in our society, and this is linked to the gendered discrimination women and girls face daily. So, with this programme that we run through Oceania Rugby and UN Women, our aim is to work with young students, to support them in understanding that we are all equal, and in this way, we hope to balance the scales between women and men, girls, and boys. All the coaches’ part of the programme are committed to this vision and this work.

Get into Rugby PLUS is a Sport for Development programme jointly developed and implemented by Oceania Rugby, UN Women, Fiji Rugby Union and ChildFund Rugby, and Lakapi Samoa. Get into Rugby PLUS is co-funded by the Australian Government’s Team Up initiative through its partnership with Rugby Australia and Oceania Rugby; by UN Women Fiji Multi-Country Office, through the Pacific Partnership to End Violence Against Women and Girls (Pacific Partnership), funded primarily by the European Union, and the Governments of Australia and New Zealand, and UN Women; and ChildFund Rugby.

A recent analysis done of the programme shows transformative change in behaviour amongst both the players (students) and coaches (teachers). Read more here.