Inspiring Inclusion on International Women’s Day 

March 8, 2024 – In honour of International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating women who are building better, safer sport across Canada. From the playground to professional, these leaders inspire inclusion and are changing the sport system for the better.  

Read on to learn about the bold leaders who are working day-to-day to create more equitable sport for girls and women.   

Ready to take action for International Women’s Day? Each woman below has shared a unique call to action, inviting you to inspire inclusion in sport.   

Looking to begin your gender equity journey? Start here with resources from Canadian Women & Sport.  


Chrissy Benz (she/her)

Founder & Consultant, Humanity in High Performance Consulting Co.  

Chrissy Benz (she/her) is a champion for equity and inclusion in community sport. Having worked at every level of sport from local grassroots programs in BC to international events, such as the Olympic and Paralympic Games, Chrissy advocates to extend the powerful benefits of sport and recreation to reach all members of our communities, particularly women, girls and immigrants.

Chrissy Benz (she/her) is a champion for equity and inclusion in community sport. Having worked at every level of sport from local grassroots programs in BC to international events, such as the Olympic and Paralympic Games, Chrissy advocates to extend the powerful benefits of sport and recreation to reach all members of our communities, particularly women, girls and immigrants.

Question: How does your work help to create better sport for women and girls? How do you integrate inclusion?  

As a consultant, I support sport organizations to implement gender equity strategies into their operations, programming and communications. I encourage them to challenge what they think they know, to be curious about what or who is missing from the design and decision-making process, and transform from “doing equity” to “being equitable”. What I know to be true is that if everyone was consciously operating from their most profound sense of empathy, sport would be the healing and inspiring experience that we know it has the potential to be.  

Question: What is your vision for girls and women in sport?    

My vision for girls and women in sport is that they experience a choice of abundant, safe and welcoming sport programs in their home community. That girls and women experience a wide variety of programs that are built for their specific needs and interests. That girls and women of all identities and abilities feel a profound sense of belonging, enjoy the freedom to show up as their most authentic selves, and experience the opportunity to play without restriction. I dream of a sports system that transcends mere inclusion. I dream that trauma-informed spaces and places are specifically constructed by and for women and girls of diverse lived experiences.  

Question: What calls-to-action do you have for the sport sector on International Women’s Day?  

  • Connect with me: www.humanityinhighperformance.com.   
  • Support the development of women coaches in volleyball. The Wong Family Fund was created by an incredible mentor/sponsor of mine – Hugh Wong of Kelowna, BC – who invited me into the volleyball world and changed the course of my life by encouraging career opportunities in sport administration from grassroots to international volleyball.  
  • Donate to Canadian Tire Jumpstart. Their community grants support incredible programming that directly knock down barriers to inclusive and safe sport.  

Maura Martina (she/her/elle)

Founder, Salawey Engagements

Maura Martina (she/her/elle), the founder of Salawey Engagements, is an Afro- Mi’kmaw woman originally from Stephenville, Newfoundland and Labrador. Maura is a retired elite-level athlete in wrestling, where she competed for 13 years at a national level as well as at the varsity level during her university studies.

During her time living and studying in Treaty One Territory, she began her career in facilitation with the Indigenous sport body of Manitoba and worked with Indigenous youth across the province.  Maura created the annual “Run for Indigenous Women and Girls” that is marking its 4th anniversary this year. Having recently relocated back to her homeland Kjipuktuk Mi’kmawki (also known as Halifax, Nova Scotia), Maura plans to expand the run to the Atlantic coast of Canada.  

Question: How does your work help to create better sport for women and girls? How do you integrate inclusion?  

I strive to be an advocate for girls and women in sport, through my lived and coaching experience, and mentorship. My work continues to create safer spaces for women and girls in sport, to validate our unique differences and how to use those differences to empower each other in sport. I believe sport is for everyone, and it should be made accessible for all.  

Question: What is your vision for girls and women in sport?    

My vision for girls and women is for them to truly gain confidence and full belief that sport is a place for them. It is a place for girls and women to having representation available to them from all areas. We deserve to be seen and we deserve to be acknowledged.


Nakissa (Keesa) Koomalsingh (she/her)

Founder and CEO, HoopQueens

Nakissa Koomalsingh, also known as Keesa K, is the founder of HoopQueens —a non-profit organization that started Canada’s first paid women’s basketball league. She has made it her personal mission to showcase homegrown Canadian talent and is elevating opportunities for women in sports across Canada.  

Question: How does your work help to create better sport for women and girls? How do you integrate inclusion?  

At HoopQueens, our mission is to reshape the landscape of women’s sports. Inclusion isn’t just a checkbox for us, it’s the foundation of who we are and a part of everything we do. We create better sports experiences for women and girls by establishing safe and inclusive spaces for growth and competition.  Our ecosystem is a source of empowerment. From our diverse athletes, coaches and staff to our energetic fans and our strategic partnerships, our message is clear: girls and women belong in sports, and they deserve to have their talents nurtured and showcased.  

Question: What is your vision for girls and women in sport?    

My vision is a future where girls and women can stay in the sport they love, not just as participants but as leaders, influencers and game-changers. I want to see young girls and women have the opportunities that I didn’t, stereotypes being shattered and every girl feeling empowered to pursue her athletic dreams. It’s about rewriting the narrative, ensuring that every young athlete has the chance to write her own story in the world of sports.  


Bold Leaders at AFC Toronto City

Helena Ruken (she/her)

Chief Executive Officer

Helena’s extensive leadership experience on boards in the Toronto soccer community has built deep ties with the grassroots soccer network in Ontario and has honed her community partnership development and problem-solving skills.

Passionate about equity, diversity and inclusion, she champions sport as a medium for fostering confidence and leadership in young women and girls. Helena  is committed to driving AFC Toronto City towards success through a culture of fairness and respect. As a parent of four children, their passion for sports is what led her to be involved as a volunteer and leader in the community. She’s seen first-hand how fundamental sport is to their overall well-being including building their confidence, teaching them to dream big and believe they have the potential to achieve great things.

Question: How does your work help to create better sport for women and girls? How do you integrate inclusion?  

By launching AFC Toronto City within Project 8’s new league, we are creating opportunities for women in professional soccer here in Toronto. This initiative is more than just an opportunity for women to compete at the highest level, it’s a movement that elevates the profile of women’s sports. Our goal extends beyond the pitch, aiming to inspire, empower and create a lasting impact on the sport landscape.  

Question: What is your vision for girls and women in sport?    

My vision is for every girl and women to believe that all spaces and opportunities available to boys and men are equally accessible to them and for that to be true. To achieve that, girls need to see role models who look like them in all areas of sport, from the players on the field, to the coaches, referees, sport leaders and owners.  

Brenda Ha (she/her)

Chief Operating Officer

Brenda brings a wealth of business knowledge to AFC Toronto City, backed by her experience in strategy, account management and IT.

A seasoned volunteer having held various leadership positions in her community, Brenda is committed to promoting gender equity, inclusion and diversity in sport at the highest level so female athletes can achieve their best and pursue their athletic dreams. Brenda likes to lead by example, showing Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) girls and women who look like her that they can also have audacious goals and be part of something as significant as launching a professional women’s soccer league. 

Question: How does your work help to create better sport for women and girls? How do you integrate inclusion?  

We will prioritize inclusion in our work to ensure that the league is diverse, accessible and welcoming. From the ushers at the stadium to the players on the field to the Club’s Board of Directors, our team will reflect the cultures, genders and faces of our beautifully multicultural city. And by actively engaging with the members of our community, we will promote various programs to open doors and give children of diverse backgrounds the opportunity to play. Our league will provide economic opportunities for women athletes, coaches, administrators, referees and other professionals associated with sports to build and grow their careers, leading to a sustainable and thriving environment for women in sports here in Canada.  

Question: What is your vision for girls and women in sport?    

 We are creating a future where girls and women have unwavering support, and a wide array of opportunities, in pursuing and excelling in sports at a professional level here in Canada. We are launching this league to create an inclusive, empowering and community-centered environment that not only provides a platform for women athletes to showcase their talent, skills and dedication at a professional level, but also fosters a culture where every player – regardless of their gender, race or socio-economic circumstances – feels welcomed and encouraged to participate, lead and succeed in the world of sports. Our vision is BOTH to elevate women in sports AND contribute to the broader conversation around gender equity, inclusion and justice to create a legacy for women in sports.

Jill Burgin (she/her)

Chief Marketing Officer

A strategic brand marketer with over 15 years of experience, Jill is well-positioned to develop impactful marketing strategies that will propel women’s professional soccer into the forefront of the sporting arena in Toronto.

With years of involvement in girls’ grassroots soccer watching and managing an Ontario Player Development League team, Jill has experienced the transformative power of sport to build confidence, leadership skills and grit in young women. Jill is committed to bringing that experience to more women and girls in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), and she is taking on this challenge for her three daughters. Joining AFC Toronto City as a founder has given her the opportunity to directly affect the sporting environment in the GTA and give young women and girls their chance at greatness in soccer. 

Question: How does your work help to create better sport for women and girls? How do you integrate inclusion?  

AFC Toronto City is a soon to be launched women’s professional soccer team in Toronto – the first of its kind in the GTA. We are literally making history by investing in women’s professional sport. We’re not just playing soccer, we’re setting the stage for women and girls to achieve their fullest potential in the soccer sporting environment. As the Chief Marketing Officer for AFC Toronto, my job is to bring the stories of our players to life for our supporters. We want to show all the young women and girls, who are currently playing soccer in the GTA or who hope to play soccer, that there is a pathway for them to make a living in sport. Whether it is as a player, a coach, a trainer or a sports journalist, bringing professional sport to Toronto will help open doors for women and girls in a market that has been traditionally dominated by men.  

Question: What is your vision for girls and women in sport?    

 My vision for girls and women in sport is to create a world where is it not seen as ‘extraordinary’ or ‘amazing’ or ‘exceptional’ for a woman to be able to make her living as an athlete or as a professional in the athletic field. I want my three daughters to have the same opportunities as men in business, in life and in sport. I want them to be able to choose as freely as men the path they want to follow. While women have made tremendous strides in education and the business world, the world of sport has been somewhat closed to them with the majority of money, and media time and attention centered on the men’s professional arena of sport. I envision a world where it is as normal for a gifted woman athlete to pursue an athletic path as it is to choose a path in business.  

Question: What calls-to-action do you three have for the sport sector on International Women’s Day?  

We are building AFC Toronto in our new Canadian women’s professional soccer league, and we invite you all to play a role. We know you are all excited about first game! So are we! There is lots to do and we are actively seeking sponsors and investors. Join us know to be part of the team that changes the game.   


Jamillah Jean (she/her)

Founder of Hike MTL

Jamillah Jean, a seasoned social advocate with a two decade career in social services and a background in education. She is deeply committed to breaking barriers and driving social change. Her expertise in social justice fuels her passion for advocacy, particularly in promoting inclusion, diversity, and equitable access to nature.

Recognizing the need for representation outdoors, Jamillah founded Hike Mtl as a therapeutic outlet and space for belonging. As a Black woman and mother, she understands the significance of reclaiming space in the outdoors. Hike Mtl, a social enterprise, is dedicated to delivering high-quality, safe, and inclusive outdoor adventures, prioritizing the representation of Black, racialized, and marginalized communities.

Question: How does your work help to create better sport for women and girls? How do you integrate inclusion?  

Our work at Hike MTL creates better sports opportunities for women and girls by offering customized outdoor experiences led by female guides. We prioritize inclusivity by fostering a supportive environment and actively engaging with women and girls in our community. Through tailored programming and female leadership, we empower women and girls to explore nature with confidence and belonging.

Question: What is your vision for girls and women in sport?    

Our vision for girls and women in sport is one of empowerment, inclusivity, and opportunity. We strive to amplify the voices of women of color in the outdoor world by increasing leadership roles through certification of more instructors in outdoor activities. We envision a future where women of color are celebrated for their achievements and contributions to outdoor sports, where they have equal access to outdoor spaces, and where they feel empowered to pursue their passions in nature without barriers or limitations.


 Know someone who is inspiring inclusion in sport? Share their story on social and tag us @womenandsportca.  

Happy International Women’s Day 2024!