Manly Sea Eagles enforcer Martin Taupau said it's imperative to celebrate the young women emerging as future leaders of their communities in Samoa.
Taupau joined staff from the NRL, Samoa's Ministry of Education, Sport and Culture (MESC) and the Australian High Commission in Samoa on Tuesday to recognise the achievements of 67 young Samoan women as they graduated from the NRL's Pacific Stars program.
In partnership with the Samoan MESC and supported by the Australian Government, Taupau said the female leadership program aims to empower young women.
"Unfortunately, gender inequality remains one of the biggest barriers in the development of Pacific countries," Taupau said.
"Strong women equal strong communities and young women who are empowered with self-belief and leadership skills will achieve better social and health outcomes for themselves, their school, their families and their community.
"They deserve to be celebrated and I'm grateful I was able to be a part of it."
Taupau made his international debut for Samoa in 2013 before moving on to represent New Zealand (his country of birth).
The Kiwi international said he hasn't closed any doors on representing Samoa again in the future.
"My culture is at the core of who I am and what I do," Taupau said.
"That jersey represented not only myself but my family and our culture. Later down the track, I would love to be given the opportunity to represent Samoa again.
"But for now I am proud to wear the New Zealand jersey and represent my country of birth and the nation that gave my family many opportunities."
Taupau hopes the return of coach Des Hasler to the Sea Eagles will result in a reversal of recent fortunes. Taupau played under Hasler at the Bulldogs in 2013.
"This is an exciting time to be a Sea Eagle and I am looking forward to being part of the success that lies ahead of us," Taupau said.
"Des was an awesome coach, he taught so much about the game and my own strengths.
"I'm truly excited to be playing under him again."