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Courting change: Tongan men take a shot at netball

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Courting change: Tongan men take a shot at netball

Gender violence and inequity remain a significant barrier to social and economic success in nations across the Pacific. The sport of netball, with the support of Australian government, is leading change in Tonga by placing men and women on a level playing court.

Follow the noise to the sporting grounds of Tonga High School in Nukuʻalofa on a Friday afternoon and you will see athletic men displaying substantial sporting skills in the Fiefia sports competitions. And it's not dreams of making it with the Ikale Tahi Sea Eagles in rugby union or the Mate Ma’a in rugby league they're chasing - these men are playing netball.

Across the Pacific, women are increasingly participating in mixed sporting competitions on traditionally-male terrain - everything from touch football to volleyball. To have men fall in love with netball, a game seen as a woman’s sport, is being celebrated as a significant shift in attitudes. Rather than the men accepting women, they are seeking and gaining acceptance from netball’s traditional custodians.

CEO of the Tongan Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ana Bing Fonua, oversees the portfolios of women’s affairs, social protection, culture and sport, among others. She has been struck by netball’s capacity to break down long-standing prejudices.

“It is just the acceptance by those who go there and experience it,” she says. They say ‘the boys can play netball. It is not a 'girly girly' game. They play really well’.

“They respect netball and they respect what we stand for,” says Tonga Netball general manager Salote Sisifa.

“I’m proud to see the change in attitude from the public and especially our men supporters.”

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The evidence is more than anecdotal. Research from La Trobe University found netball has played a key role in growing acceptance of women’s involvement in sport and other ‘non-traditional’ endeavours.

According to the UN, between 40 and 70 per cent of women across the Pacific region experience violence from intimate partners and family members throughout their lifetime. The great hope is that the culture of the playing court can permeate both home and professional life.

With that in mind, Tonga Netball, in partnership with Netball Australia and with the assistance of the Australian government, is taking a message of fun, competition and health across a growing number of Tonga’s 36 inhabited islands. The focus is on providing a space where women and girls are in charge.

Many Tongans first contact with netball is the Kau Mai Loto Tonga programme. Kau Mai Loto Tonga loosely translates as “Come Join Us, Tonga”.

Colourful tents, a funky sound system and trained volunteers are taking sport into villages of all sizes on a Saturday morning and becoming a focal point for the community. Gender biases are forgotten amid the noise and action of six different sporting experiences, including netball.

On a social level as well, it is an icebreaker. [Men and women] get to know each other a little bit more as well," Ana says.

You can see when they are sitting on a break from one of the games that they don’t sit all boys and all girls. They sit in a mixed group.

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


[This article has been edited by the Operating Team]

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Article type

News

Author

Aaron Kearney

Published

Friday, February 19, 2016 - 00:00