Lao Rugby Federation (LRF) CEO Viengsamai Souksavanh says she has a responsibility to “make the environment better” for women and girls who want to play the game in future.
Souksavanh, a World Rugby Women’s Executive Leadership Scholarship recipient in 2020, organised an event in Vientiane last month that brought together 17 Lao Unstoppables “for a day of leadership development workshops and networking”.
The LRF CEO put on the event, which coincided with International Women’s Day, following the success of Asia Rugby’s own campaign, and as a way to highlight the popularity of the women’s game in Laos, where more than 50 per cent of players and coaches are female.
Over 50 women were nominated to become Lao Rugby Unstoppables, with the 17 chosen community leaders given an opportunity to meet female leaders from other sectors of Lao life.
“I knew all the girls who were nominated,” Souksavanh told World Rugby, “before they came together for the workshop.
“But, when I got a chance to hear from them about the real challenges and barriers that they faced and how they could overcome them, and what kinds of things encouraged them and motivated them, then I felt really inspired to be able to hear all those stories and for everyone in the room to be able to exchange those ideas.”
Something that was discussed during the workshop was how for each of the 17 Unstoppable women present many more had been discouraged from playing rugby due to the obstacles they faced.
“As we were in the room together, we thought, OK, we 17 are here now but for each of us, there are five or 10 other girls who started at the same time as us, but they have quit.
“They could not reach the same stage as us because the barriers were too big, and so we decided that we have a responsibility to make the environment better for girls and women who are coming through in the future.
“We have to try to action something in order to take away the barriers or make it easier, make the environment better in the future so the girls and women who are coming up in the next generation don't face so many barriers.”
Creating role models
Souksavanh is dedicated to making rugby a more accessible game for everyone in Laos, whether male, female, able-bodied or disabled, and believes that positive role models — such as those 17 Unstoppables — can only help in that mission.
“We thought about the things that helped each person when they faced a barrier, what were the motivators or enablers that helped them to overcome those barriers?” she said.
“A lot of the things were role models or mentors that met them at the moment that they were facing a barrier or feeling like quitting. That role model that they saw or the mentor who helped them, helped them to overcome [that obstacle].
“Life skills that they learnt when they were participating in the work, those life skills helped them to get more knowledge and to think more critically about the things that they were going through.
“As I heard about all of these kinds of motivators, I then thought, we need to take more action as a federation to make sure to give the knowledge and the motivation to the girls and women so that they can overcome the barriers or even inspire other girls and women to overcome those barriers too.
“When I started there weren't as many girls and women to inspire me. There were some important ones, but there weren't enough, so that's why I want to make sure there are many more who can keep helping people.”