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Equal Playing Field: Stopping Gender-Based Violence Before It Begins

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Papua New Guinea (PNG) is known for having one of the highest rates of violence against women in the world. Over 70 percent of women and girls there will experience rape or assault in their lifetime. Violence against women occurs in the home, workplace, markets, streets, and other public places, and includes rape, beating, harassment, torture, and killing. The severity of the violence against women in PNG is so extreme that the epidemic has been labeled a humanitarian crisis.

This is why the organization Equal Playing Field (EPF) was started. EPF is a charity founded by Jacqueline Joseph and Adam Everill that uses physical activity and education to prevent violence against women in PNG. EPF uses all kinds of sports to engage young people in the program, and uses sporting concepts and terminology to explain the importance of respectful relationships to young people.

The program was started in 2013 under the name “Rugby League Against Violence,” but the name was changed in 2015 to better reflect the broader mission of the organization. EPF’s largest program is EPF4S (Equal Playing Field for Schools), which is an eight-week program in primary schools that educates young people on how to have healthy, safe, and respectful relationships. By encouraging these types of relationships at a young age, EPF believes that it can nip violence against women in the bud.

“[EPF] has worked with over 3,000 people and 83 percent of these young people have pledged their support to end violence against women and girls. For us, that means that we are now working with activated young people who want to make a difference in their communities,” says Jacqueline.

The school program is for students aged 12-16, and each week the kids participate in recreational matches and educational sessions on topics related to respect and relationships. The efforts make by Jacqueline, Adam, and everyone in EPF have had a noticeable impact on the students involved. After the program, 84 percent of students said that they saw boys and girls playing together more, and 75 percent of students claimed that there was less violence among their classmates. The most significant impact may be the carefree happiness evident among the general student population after participating in EPF4S.

Another successful program run by EPF is the EPF Academy, which trains leaders under the age of 35 to become advocates for peace, gender equality, and the elimination of violence against women. This is done through workshops, mentoring, and supervised practice.

Jacqueline was recently named the recipient of the Commonwealth Pacific Young Person of the Year Award at the 2017 Commonwealth Youth Awards for Excellence in Development Work. These awards are an initiative of the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Youth Program, which celebrates young adults under 30 who are leading initiatives ranging from poverty alleviation to peace building. Jacqueline’s work in helping achieve the Sustainable Development Goal 5, gender equality, is what won her the award.

“In a country like Papua New Guinea, with 800 different languages and diverse cultures, it is a tough place to work in. But I guess one of the good things about having challenges is that it makes you stronger; it makes you work extra hard,” said Jacqueline after receiving the award.

People like Jacqueline give us all hope about achieving gender equality in a time when it is so desperately needed. To register to become a volunteer for EPF, click here!

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