A record number of girls converged on Nadi's Prince Charles Park yesterday to compete in Fiji's national women's age grade provincial sevens championship.
In just its second year, the competition has almost tripled in size, with 384 girls competing across 32 teams this year, up from 12 in 2017.
Oceania Rugby's Women's Director Cathy Wong said the increase in playing numbers reflected the increasing focus on equal participation in rugby - for women and men and for girls and boys - by Oceania Rugby and Fiji Rugby Union.
"In Fiji, there is sometimes the perception that rugby is a sport only for men and not women," she said.
"The Pacific is still a very patriarchal society and that's embedded in everything, it is great to see that mindset proved wrong in the incredibly competitive women's matches today.
"The provincial areas of Fiji are where many of the national men's team members come from yet the same cannot be said for the national women's teams.
"One of the identified reasons or barriers for this is the lack of organisational pathways for women in provincial areas. Regular competitions would facilitate women to play more regularly and enhance performance."
"It is clear today, however, that these women and senior girls are just as dedicated, competent and driven to excel in rugby, as the men players. Rugby is a sport clearly suited to, and enjoyed by, both men and women equally," Wong said.
Using rugby to promote gender equality and prevent violence against women also forms part of an agreement signed between Oceania Rugby and UN Women Fiji.
Prior to the competition, a gender-based violence awareness session was held for female players and their parents to better understand the importance of gender equality and equal participation, both on and off the field, including in their community.
Two separate awareness sessions were held in Nausori last week with players from the Tailevu Under 15 girls team and their mothers.
The parents talked about noticing an increase in the self-confidence of their daughters, while participants discussed gender inequalities in sport and the challenges faced by females wanting to play rugby; the positive support from women coaches; violence against women and girls in sports including sexual assault; and the referral pathway for survivors of violence to seek support.