A meeting of the International Canoe Federation’s Diversity and Inclusion Commission has discussed challenges associated with the advancement of women in different countries around the world.

Canoe athletes, judges and administrators from all five continents took part in the discussion, which looked at existing programs within the ICF designed to promote women, and canvassed potential new initiatives.

The meeting was told that in some regions the challenges are far greater. Religion and cultural norms often act as a barrier to women progressing in sport. In some countries women are not allowed to even watch sport, let alone compete.

ICF development programs are playing a major part in breaking down some of these barriers.

“Culture in some parts of the world has a big role to play in this project, because it will affect all activities of women,” Iran’s Katayoon Ashraf, coach of her country’s women’s canoe team, said.

“Some part of the budget must be used to better familiarise ourselves with local cultures and expanding our knowledge. Some countries don’t give many opportunities for women, even for watching events.”

Ashraf told the video conference of her own experience running ICF development camps in Iran. When she began six years ago, she was the only female coach in Iran, there were no women judges, and only a handful of women actually doing the sport.

Within five years, numbers had swelled; more than 20 female coaches, 25 judges, and close to 100 athletes across ten Iranian provinces.

“Some women were afraid to come and join us, but after one year the numbers surprised everyone,” Ashraf said.

Nigeria’s Oluode Olubunmi spoke of similar roadblocks in parts of Africa, and the struggles she had getting canoeing even recognised in Nigeria.

“I was told it wasn’t athletics or basketball, so they didn’t see it as a competitive sport,” she said.

“If you are coming in as a woman, you need to have your position well stated and well set out. We have to be ten steps ahead.

“Some of my colleagues pitied me.”

ICF Diversity and Inclusion Commission chair, Cecilia Farias, acknowledged these were areas of major concern.

“Every action that we have should be well planned and better delivered, and should be monitored in terms of results” she said.

“We have different abilities, and different skills, and we can bring them back to the communities. There is the gift that we have as women, to create opportunities and develop more ideas, because we cannot wait for everything to be given.

“Dedicated programs for women produce not only more skills, but also build up stronger personalities, leadership skills and acquire more knowledge.”

The video meeting also discussed the importance of diversity in succession planning, which was support by ICF vice-president, Thomas Konietzko.

“We have to always look out for obstacles preventing women from progressing, and then we need to work to remove them,” he told the commission.

Elite athlete Michele Eray spoke about the importance of identifying good role models in women’s sport, and of having women in coaching and leadership positions that other women can aspire to.