While New Zealand took the silverware and Papua New Guinea celebrated their historic qualification for Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 thanks to their fourth-place finish, women’s rugby in general was the main winner at the Oceania Rugby Sevens Championship in Suva, Fiji, on 10-11 November.

For the first time in the competition’s history the women’s showpiece match, a 12-5 win for New Zealand over Olympic champions Australia, came after the men’s finale, signalling another step in the right direction towards achieving a level playing field between the genders.

This wasn't a one-off, though, as the finals will alternate each year with the men's finale to close the tournament in 2018 and the women's again in 2019.

With 12 pool games and eight in the knockout stages, this year’s event was bigger and better than before with a record eight teams participating (Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tahiti and Tonga), reflecting the increasing global popularity of the women’s game.

Oceania Rugby has led the way in many respects on that front, including record numbers of female participants in the Get Into Rugby programme in Fiji.

“We’re getting impressive results from the investments by Oceania Rugby and World Rugby to grow women’s rugby in the region,” said Oceania Rugby President Richard Sapias.

“This is reflected in the increased number of women’s teams participating in the Oceania Sevens, and in recent changes to our strategic planning and partnerships such as with UN Women as we work together towards equality on the field.” 

To encourage more equal participation of women and girls in rugby, Oceania Rugby has made changes at top of its hierarchical structure as it strives to be a catalyst for change in the region.

In 2016, Oceania Rugby’s membership approved the introduction of two new independently-appointed Board positions, both filled by Pacific Island women. Cathy Wong (Fiji), Women’s Director Oceania Rugby, and Aloma Johannsson (Tonga), Independent Director Oceania Rugby, are integral to the decision-making progress and key to ensuring recruitment, from referees to managers, adopts an equal opportunities approach.

Nicolas Burniat, UN Women’s deputy representative for the Fiji multi-country office (MCO) that works across 14 Pacific Island countries, said the Oceania Sevens is a great example of the commitment by Oceania Rugby to change and to encourage more equal participation of women and girls in all aspects of the sport’s administration and competitions, a commitment signified by the Memorandum of Understanding that UN Women have signed with the regional association.

“UN Women, as the global champion for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, is proud to work together with Oceania Rugby toward an equal playing field,” said Burniat.

“By supporting more women and girls to play rugby and other sports at an equal level with men, we can encourage social change by demonstrating there is no limit to what women and girls can do.”