The Canadian High Commissioner in Pakistan Leslie Scanlon along with ice-hockey enthusiasts from the Canadian High Commission, and the High Commissioner’s daughter, who is an ice-hockey coach, participated in five Winter Festivals organised by rural mountainous communities in Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan in January 2023. This was the fourth year Canadians have actively participated in Winter Festivals with the aim of supporting the empowerment of 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 partnered with The Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP) to support communities who demonstrated a commitment to organizing 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 program 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. 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. Winter Festivals have become a great way to get youth into sports that support their physical and mental health, while also bringing communities together to find enjoyment during difficult winter months – realities and experiences that Canadian communities also share. In each community, the High Commissioner H.E Leslie Scanlon and her team participated in Climate Walks with the local youth, like the Booni Environment Academy, to shed light on the devastating impacts of climate change and bio diversity loss in the region, and to discuss solutions to embed climate action in recovery actions to build back better – to create economies and communities that are more sustainable, resilient, and equitable. 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. “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. 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,” said Canadian High Commissioner to Pakistan Leslie Scanlon. ”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,” said General Manager AKRSP Jamil Uddin.