Vanuatu, an island nation, surrounded by the South Pacific ocean is known for its exquisite beaches but little is known about its sporting culture, specifically cricket. The women’s national T20 team ranks 28th in the world which probably makes it the country’s most successful sporting side.
Rachel Andrew is one of the famous cricketers of the country. The 22-year old all-rounder, who is a right-hand bat and right arm quick, has scored 207 runs at an average of 23.00 and strike rate of 90.78 in 12 innings and with the ball, she has scalped 14 wickets in 11 innings at an average of 11.50 and an economy of 4.73. Vanuatu has won six out of the 12 T20Is that they have played. The side finished third in the 2019 Pacific Games, the last international cricket they played before the pandemic. This September they will play in the regional qualifier for the 2023 Women’s T20 World Cup.
Just like Rachel, cricket is the passion of many women in Vanuatu. Though the girls want to play the sport, the traditional values have created barriers that have prevented many of Vanuatu’s ‘mamas’ from playing. In order to change this scenario and allow girls to take up cricket, Vanuatu Cricket Association (VCA) is working hard.
“I heard some people saying ‘mamas, they belong in the kitchen, clean the house, looking after the kids’, but no – it’s wrong. We’ve got to help each other and promote gender equality. Let them know they have the right to enjoy themselves out there in sports or any activities,” said Andrew, who is one of the brand ambassadors appointed by the VCA.
Apart from being at the receiving end of misogynous treatment, the women of Vanuatu face increasing health concerns, particularly in the form of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes.
In order to revolutionize the lives of women in the country, the Women’s Island Cricket Programme was started in 2012. At present, there are nine communities around the capital city of Port Vila and includes women between the age of 15 and 90.
“We have a 20-week programme and we include health awareness, a medical check-up, and nutrition class to help them cook healthy food for their family. Then on top of that, they play island cricket,” explained Amelia Lawac, who has been involved in the programme from its inception.
Island Cricket is different from the regular cricket that is played. The players wear full island dress, use banyan bats and balls made from the tree’s sap. At a time, two batters and two runners are in the middle instead of just two batters. Typically the senior women are the batters and the younger girls are the runners. The programme has been successful which is evident from the fact that many young players have gone on to play for the national team. The programme has also led to an improvement in the participants’ health outcomes.
“It’s very, very competitive!,” Lawac laughed.
“The first team we started with, they have to stay the winner. They want to be first every time. Here in Vanuatu, you don’t see a lot of mamas wearing shorts or playing sports. Here they can wear the island dress, and no one can give bad feedback. They just want to get up from the kitchen and come enjoy themselves.”
The Women’s Island Cricket Programme is spreading its wings to include education and work against gender-based violence.
“The focus for us is the younger generation now… so that they know that these sorts of behaviors are not accepted when they’re in the care of their parents or their caretakers,” said Hannah Tamata, the VCA’s social impact and inclusion manager.
There is seldom any doubt that the Women’s Island Cricket Programme is making a paradigm shift in women’s lives, changing perceptions and improving the health and wellness of participants across different age groups. Tamata concluded, “The future is looking very bright for us.”
Vanuatu, a country with a population of just around 3,07,000, has taken some giant steps to reform the lives of women in the country. Using cricket as a medium to bring about change, the island nation has shown the world that a sport can not only unite the nation but also play an instrumental role in maintaining the health and wellness of its people. Vanuatu is a classic example for other small countries which are plagued by problems such as unequal rights for women, gender-based violence, among many.
I am a former cricketer having represented Mumbai University at All India University level. I was a part of MCA probables for the U-19 and U-23 age group. I have been an avid cricket writer for the last five years. Currently I am pursuing my Ph.D from IIT Bombay.