This was the fourth year Canadians have actively participated in Winter Festivals in order to empower women and girls
The Canadian High Commissioner in Pakistan Leslie Scanlon, along with ice-hockey enthusiasts, including her daughter, who is an ice-hockey coach, participated in five Winter Festivals organised in Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan in January 2023.
This was the fourth year Canadians have actively participated in Winter Festivals in order to empower women and girls through sports; encouraging environmental protection and responsible eco-tourism while discussing the challenging impacts of climate change; and, supporting community-driven economic development, especially for women.
Through the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives, Canada joined hands with The Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP) to support communities who demonstrated a commitment to organising inclusive winter festivals, raising discussions around climate-change adaptation and environmental protection, and to supporting female entrepreneurs.
The High Commissioner and her team travelled for 16 days to visit communities, coach youth on ice-hockey skills, attend a variety of festival events, and engage with local leaders.
The programme brought together 40 male and female ice hockey teams and provided opportunities to more than 100 rural women entrepreneurs to display their products at the Women Business Expos held on the sidelines of Winter Sports Festivals.
“Canada has a Feminist International Assistance Policy, which underscores our belief that by including women and girls in everything from politics, to the economy, and in sports, only then will communities thrive both in Canada, and around the world,” Scanlon said.
“We all have a role to play in breaking down barriers and ensuring that women, girls, and the differently abled have every opportunity to succeed in life. Watching the girls’ hockey games and being able to play with all these amazing female athletes has been a highlight for us. We applaud these communities’ efforts to include everyone,” she added.
Meanwhile, General Manager AKRSP, Jamil Uddin, also shed light on the objectives of the project.
''The broader purpose of the Winter Sports festivals is the economic and physical well-being of the communities of Gilgit-Baltistan, as harsh winters halt the physical and economic activities in these regions. Therefore, AKRSP, with its partners, provide an opportunity to activate physical and economic activities,” Jamil said.
Playing ice hockey is a true Canadian passion that provides a unique opportunity for Canadian engagement in Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan. Winter sport diplomacy has become a powerful tool for cultural exchange in line with Canada’s commitment to supporting gender equality and addressing climate change internationally.
The High Commissioner also visited international assistance projects funded under “Broadening Economic & Social Transformation for Women’s Economic Empowerment & Recovery (BEST4WEER)”. BEST4WEER is a five-year $20.16 million project, jointly funded by the Aga Khan Foundation Canada (AKFC) and Global Affairs Canada, aimed at improving women’s social and economic empowerment.