League Bilong Laif staff on importance of women in league

Female development officers from the League Bilong Laif program believe the increasing involvement of women and girls in the sport is improving women's confidence and changing attitudes in Papua New Guinean society and sporting circles.

League Bilong Laif, which uses rugby league to improve education outcomes, employs 16 female development officers who deliver school-based rugby league activities to girls and boys in four provinces.

Port Moresby-based female League Bilong Laif staff gathered to reflect on women's contributions to rugby league in Papua New Guinea, as part of the NRL's Harvey Norman Women in League Round.

Many are current or former players and coaches, who have witnessed first-hand the growth of the women's game, and its effects on PNG's rugby league and social landscapes.

League Bilong Laif development officer Cathy Neap says the role of women in the sport is now more prominent than ever.

"Women have participated in rugby league for a while in the background, helping the guys, washing their uniforms and helping them prepare for the game," Neap explains. 

"But as women have been given the chance to play in the (Port Moresby Rugby League) competition, it has brought a lot of women out there in the public eye where they can also do the things that men can do, both on-field and off-field, which has gained a lot of respect from the guys."

The League Bilong Laif program, which uses on-field and in-classroom activities designed for girls and boys of all abilities, puts females on an equal footing when it comes to rugby league.

Neap and her colleagues say the school students they work with are excited to discover that the female development officers are also players. 

"As we go around the schools, young girls look at us and say, 'maybe those girls are rugby players'," reveals League Bilong Laif development officer Meli Jacob.

"They come up to us and ask if they can join us and play too. I think it's a good thing because taking part in rugby league boosts the confidence of the younger girls."

"With League Bilong Laif, when we go into a school, the girls are really happy to see that us women play rugby league too," agrees fellow League Bilong Laif development officer Waikili John. 

To date, more than 23,000 students (46 per cent female) have participated in the League Bilong Laif program.