Belgrave Juniors are here for girls and women in sport.

Making something ‘official’ that has been in the landscape at Belgrave Junior Football for some time, Mr Piaser said the club are ‘stoked’. Picture: SUPPLIED

By Tanya Steele

Yarra Ranges youth are being supported in their journey towards gender equity and inclusivity as local junior football clubs tackle being agents of change.

Making great strides for girls and women in football a Yarra Ranges junior football team has been accredited by the AFL as a Women and Girls Chartered Club – making them one of three junior clubs in the hills to receive the endorsement.

Upwey-Tecoma Junior Football and Monbulk Junior Football also have accreditations, making junior teams in the hills a third of the teams on board for the program for the whole state of Victoria.

The Belgrave Junior Football Club announced via social media on 20 June that they had been officially endorsed by the AFL.

The junior footy team is one of the first nine clubs in Victoria to become a signatory of the charter and President Paul Piaser said that once the club found out that it was something they could do they jumped on it and made it a priority.

“We’re a very inclusive club,” he said.

“We’ve got a 50/50 spread of all our players, girls, and boys, which would have been unheard of about 20 years ago.”

AFL Victoria launched the Women and Girls Football Charter in April 2022 and the initiative is designed to support community clubs and leagues to achieve outcomes that ensure the progression of women and girls in all aspects of community football.

Women and girls football participation has shown massive growth since the beginning of AFLW. In 2016, there were around 950 community teams for women and girls playing Australian football, by 2022 there were more than 2500 community teams for women and girls.

Adult clubs are now too getting involved, with recent workshops for the initiative held on 15 and 28 May for the inclusive clubs program at the Olinda Ferny Creek FNC social rooms.

Six clubs in total attended; including representatives from Olinda Ferny Creek FNC, Belgrave FNC, Upwey Tecoma FNC, Wandin FNC, Warburton Millgrove FNC, and Emerald FNC and are they now all working to become signatories of the AFL Victoria Women and Girls Charter.

Making something ‘official’ that has been in the landscape at Belgrave Junior Football for some time, Mr Piaser said the club are ‘stoked’.

“It was always unofficial, we’ve had full girls’ teams for some time and it has just encouraged more girls to come to the club,” he said.

“Previously, the girls have outnumbered the boys in some years.”

Mr Piaser said that the accreditation itself is a fairly important perk and that it displays that the club is switched on.

“That would be something that if you went to a team website, you’d have a look, and you’d see that,” he said.

Girls are represented right down to the younger levels at the football club and Mr Piaser said that the entry level is more mixed and the AusKick is nearly 100 strong with a good split between girls and boys for participation.

“We have one of the largest I’m the 16 girls teams in the in the league and they’re actually premiership favourites,” he said.

Mr Piaser said that the club has a very large number of participants and successful teams as well.

“Our girls are playing premierships and doing all those great things that kids love doing,” he said.

Mr Piaser credits the general gender equity culture at the club, having more women in coaching and most importantly the push from the club’s committee to have an inclusive space for their players and community.

“It’s the tireless effort of the committee and the committee working hard,” he said.

“They’ve really pushed forward as well to make sure that everybody feels included in a safe, enjoyable space.”

Having more women in these key spaces has helped the club and Mr Piaser said that the committee is predominantly women.

“It has helped make the club a little bit more welcoming to girls and new girls coming to play the sport. and it’s been a big advantage,” he said.

Currently, Mr Piaser said the club are working hard behind the scenes to improve their clubrooms.

“When they were built, they didn’t consider the need for spaces and facilities for the girls and women,” he said.

In a general turnabout for gender toilet issues Mr Piaser said that Belgrave Junior Club have developed a situation where when the female teams are playing, there’s no space for the young boys and men to go to use facilities.

“It’s just something that time and money fixes a lot of of course, but, interestingly, the girls have actually created a great problem for the boys,” he said.

The charter sets out the expectation that associations will champion women and girls guided by four principles; opportunity, visibility, access and, investment and Mr Piaser said that the club is glad to leave older attitudes towards women in sport behind as the Belgrave junior community is not like that at all.

“We are all-inclusive – it’s not about winning, it’s about having fun,” he said.