ChildFund Rugby, the principal charity for Rugby World Cup 2021, is helping to provide community rugby leaders with the tools to drive global change for future generations of women and girls.

Grassroots to Global is a worldwide campaign that seeks to work with unions to achieve equity on and off the pitch in the community game.

The programme began in March 2021 in Laos and ChildFund Rugby hopes that by the time it culminates with a findings-sharing event at RWC 2021 in New Zealand in October that 30 unions will have taken part.

A key pillar of the programme is the opportunity for unions to host forums, which enable female community leaders to network while exchanging ideas and discussing barriers to participation within their countries.

From those discussions, each union will produce a project proposal with the aim of securing funding to ensure that Grassroots to Global has a lasting impact beyond the lifespan of the programme.

“We’ll have a forum in New Zealand for some of the women who've already come through the series to be able to share what's happened in their national forums, network and get more inspiration from the other girls and women who are doing this,” Megan Knight, ChildFund Rugby Global Programs and Partnerships Manager, told World Rugby.

“But then also we have a few that will be planned all the way until December, or even January of next year, because this can be an initiative that lives on past the event and really has a legacy for the mobilisation of girls and women in sport.

“Especially because COVID-19 has decimated the community sports scene generally, but especially for girls and women. So, it's more important than ever to really focus on how these leaders can support their community to get girls and women back out to the pitch.”

“We’re being led by passion”

To date five forums have taken place, another eight are scheduled and there is interest in the programme from countries in all six regional associations.

Ideas that have come out of those workshops have included starting a male advocacy group, creating a league for mothers and grandmothers to combat stereotypes about women playing rugby post-birth while in Cambodia, a first women’s club is being set up.

“It’s fabulous,” Knight added. “As sport-for-development specialists, this really shows that there's an opportunity to support emerging unions and also to support World Rugby in reaching their strategic goals.

“Because this is all born out of the Women in Rugby plan, of course, and how we can try to make rugby participation opportunities more equitable on and off the field, just like World Rugby is hoping to do.

“So, we're really keen to see how our expertise, our tools, our access to funding can help to unite this group of community leaders and propel their efforts forward.”

On Monday and Tuesday this week, the Philippines Rugby Football Union (PRFU) hosted its own Grassroots to Global forum in Manila, where community leaders worked with regional facilitators to devise a nationwide action plan.

Those volunteers aim to empower 30 regional leaders to work within their communities and have set ambitious participation targets.

They also hope to encourage schools to offer rugby as part of the curriculum having identified a lack of visibility as a contributory factor to the existence of a stigma around women playing the game.

“The mere fact that this is happening, that we've been given the opportunity to talk about barriers, to tackle those barriers, that's really big for us,” Lia Calingacion said.

“Once the opportunity was presented to us, we were just really excited to grab it and make a project out of it.”

Ish Lanzar added: “We’re being led by passion because we're really passionate about the sport and we want to share that passion with the other girls.

“If we feel empowered, we also want them to feel empowered through rugby.”