Introducing Gender, Violence and Inequality Lead Researcher: Dr. Ceridwen Spark

Playing Sport, Occupying Space and Exploring Gender Equity

Gender based violence and the larger issue of gender inequity is a global problem. Dr. Ceridwen Spark’s most recent work centres on novel ways to address the issue of gender inequity with young people

This approach focuses on changing the next generation and how they think about what it is to be a woman and a man rather than trying to re-configure already cemented behaviours in older people.

Equal Playing Field, a project set in Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea, is trying to change the way young people understand, think and act out gender through playing sport.

Like all nations, PNG has their favourite sport and for the locals it’s rugby.

For 8 weeks students between the ages of 13 and 15 play a game of rugby. Afterwards they talk about boundaries, accessing support, identifying different kinds of violence and what makes a respectful relationship. What’s unusual about this is that it’s usually only boys who play together.

Ceridwen’s evaluation of the program found that while talking about issues of gendered violence is one thing, having the services and staff available to deal with the huge scope of the issue is another thing entirely.

She says, the students asked her, “is everyone gender equitable in Australia? Do all the kids play together?” And her resounding answer is, “no”.

Closer to home in Australia, her response is to explore how gender plays out  in Victorian schools.

As in PNG, the issue of boys occupying sports fields reflect prevailing ideas about who has access to public space.

Overwhelmingly, boys felt comfortable all over the school, except for the girls’ toilet.

Girls on the other hand, saw football fields and basketball courts as places from which they were largely excluded.

Ceridwen notes that people often naturalise girls’ exclusion from those spaces but the girls themselves didn’t say that. Their insights reflected the deep ways the playground embodies the gender norms in our society and get played out at school every day.

The Port Moresby Equal Playing Field project participants in action.

The World Bank Group awarded the Equal Playing Field Team a prestigious innovation grant to continue their work.  

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