When elected President of Torba Football Association in 2019, Shedrack Obed pledged to provide equal opportunities for both men and women across the province.
He held up his end of the bargain by starting the first-ever women’s league in Gaua that same year.
It was the products of that initial investment, Young Stars, who represented Torba in the inaugural Vanuatu Football Association (VFF) Women’s Champions League, held at Luganville Soccer City Stadium on Espirito Santo, where they finished a very respectable third.
Obed said the success of the team was not only a boost for the players who competed, but for the football association.
“I thought the performance of the girls during the tournament was a boost to their morale because they’re playing at senior level for the first time,” Obed said.
“It’s not unexpected for me that the side did well because the girls are the same ones who took part in the youth tournament (in 2019).”
Torba, Vanuatu’s northernmost province is made up of the Banks and Torres Islands, and spans an area of 882 square kilometres while boasting a population of less than 10,000.
It hasn’t been an easy or simple journey for Obed and his executive to reach the point where not only are girls from the province playing football, but earning success on the field.
“We have to thank VFF for introducing the youth leagues and football in schools through the Just Play Programme and the youth development programmes. Our development officer helps PE teachers to run and organise the programmes and we’re seeing some great success.”
“It’s not easy to organise or run women’s football in Torba Province because here, girls are not allowed to wear shorts and play soccer in the community,” he explained.
Girls not being able to wear shorts or play sports is a result of both kastom and religion combined, with local chiefs voicing their objection early on in the project.
However, with time, Obed believes community leaders are starting to see the benefits of supporting women and girls in sport.
“Our goals here for Torba Football and women’s football is for our girls to continue playing soccer,” he said.
“They should have equal opportunity as well and our goal is to continue to develop and support our women to play football and reach a higher level.
“In past tournaments we have reached the semi-finals but not the grand final, our goal is to continue giving that support so our girls can remain in competition, reach the grand final and become champions.”
The vast expanse of the Banks and Torres Islands means movement is incredibly restricted and Obed puts that down as one of the biggest hinderances to further development because of transport costs.
“It costs us to big, we need money to move and to visit the islands so we started women’s soccer on one island, Gaua, to start with and we will develop from there. “Our goal is to reach the other islands where our senior men’s leagues are running activities.”