By Matt Fotia
As of November 25, the world will unite together for 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based violence. Many organisations are doing great work alongside the global initiative, with our states very own Respect Victoria running their Respect Women: ‘Call It Out’ campaign alongside the dates.
Other, lesser known organisations have also been doing great work in this space, with a group in the Outer Eastern Suburbs of Victoria having worked towards this common goal for almost two years now, under the guise of the Leading the Change program.
Leading the Change is an innovative program, started by the AFL Outer East and Sport and Life Training (SALT) in partnership with Yarra Valley Water and Eastern Health. The program encourages the AFL Outer East’s clubs and it’s players to promote the importance of mental health and wellbeing, gender equality and respect amongst their members and the overall community, to create a desirable and sustainable culture.
2019 was the programs second year and whilst results have been promising, AFL Outer East Region General Manager Aaron Bailey says that there is still plenty of work to be done.
“Our program evaluation this year showed that 31% of women that participated had experienced an abusive relationship in the past, and this is an ongoing reminder to us a whole community that we need to invest in respectful relationships, make sure that people are seeking help when they need it and that we encourage people to call out disrespectful behaviour towards women if they see it – on of off the field.”
Leading the Change has attracted over 1500 participants in its first two years and has been implemented at 20 sporting clubs. The program involves face to face education sessions that challenges clubs, to de-stigmatise conversations around mental health and understand the importance of supporting one another within the sporting club environment.
This issue has become more prominent in the professional landscape over recent years, with players such as Tom Boyd and Jack Steven taking time out of the game due to mental health struggles, whilst more recently Victorian cricket trio Glenn Maxwell, Nic Maddinson and Will Pucovski have all stepped away from the sport due to their own ongoing mental battles.
Other sessions within the program focus around gender equality and building respectful relationships between men and women at all sporting clubs and society in general.
The AFL Outer East also launched its own Respect campaign in 2019, with #ExpectRespect, which saw two members of their community receive grants for their club after they were nominated and then chosen as the two individuals who best showed or created respectful relationships between all members of their club.
SALT CEO David Burt commended the engagement levels of all clubs involved in the program across its first two years and is confident it will lead to a positive change amongst the community.
“It has been an absolute privilege working with the clubs in the AFL Outer East for the last two years,”
“The clubs are not obliged to engage with SALT, yet we are being warmly welcomed into these communities,”
“The clubs are genuinely engaging with the programs and are actively working towards improving their culture by becoming more inclusive and respectful and by providing better support for their players and members.”
Mr Bailey says that sporting clubs should be a safe place for its members and the local community and that this partnership and the Leading the Change program have helped push this positive culture forward.
“We want to create sporting club environments that are inclusive of women, respectful of everyone and become places where people feel they can access the help they need it when they need it,”
“Often this starts with just a simple thing of letting your mates know what is going on. Our clubs need to be places where people feel safe enough to be honest and where we know how we can support people,”
“This partnership has shown again in 2019, that our clubs have a willingness to place strong investment in creating positive culture.”
Acting Manager of Yarra Valley Water, David Snadden, echoed the thoughts of both Burt and Bailey about empathising the importance of creating good culture from an early age.
“We are very proud to get behind this initiative,”
“It’s really important to reinforce the importance of safe and respectful relationships from a young age, which is why local sport is the perfect platform to do this.”
A representative from Eastern Health has explained their reasoning for supporting the initiative as well.
“Eastern Health has supported this partnership as part of its response to family violence in the community.”
The initiative has become even more poignant in the Outer East in recent years, as the number of female participants in the competition increases, due to an increase in netball sides and rapid nationwide rapid growth of female football.
This increase in female sport has been welcomed by clubs in the Outer East according to Mr Bailey.
“The clubs love it, they know that when they bring women on board they become better places where everyone wants to be.”
For more information about Leading the Change contact Aaron Bailey via Aaron.Bailey@afl.com.au.