An engaged audience watches a talk outside beside palm trees and a blue sky at WOW Karachi.
WOW Karachi ©

British Council. Photographer credit: Production 21.

Our programme in South Asia supports the empowerment of women and girls and recognises the potential of heritage for economic empowerment and social inclusion. 

Empowerment of women and girls 

Through Women of the World Festival and Creating Heroines we are developing and supporting programmes that provide a safe space for dialogue, enabling women and girls to share their stories. The empowerment of women and girls is a thematic priority across our programmes in South Asia, which are developed to utilise the power of the arts to challenge and shift attitudes that can perpetuate gender inequality, and harness the potential of the creative sector as a source of economic empowerment. We aim to celebrate and empower women and girls to feel valued and contribute to society and the economy.

South Asia is generally low ranking on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index. In 2018, Pakistan was ranked at 148 out of 149 countries, Nepal 105th, and India 108th. Although progress has been more pronounced in some countries such as Bangladesh (ranked 48th) and Sri Lanka (100th), improvement in gender indicators has been slow in others.

Cultural heritage in South Asia

South Asia is home to very diverse communities, and historically cross-cultural interactions have formed the social fabric of the region. However, current and recent conflicts, inequality and social exclusion (due to age, gender, race and ethnicity) are threatening the value of this diversity and limiting freedom of expression. This in turn affects social cohesion and gender equality in the region.

For societies to flourish, we believe that peoples of a community need to be able to participate and have a sense of belonging and legitimacy. We recognise the power of the arts to challenge and shift attitudes that can perpetuate inequalities and, we believe that it is possible to harness the potential of the creative sector as a source of social cohesion and economic empowerment. 

Through Our Shared Cultural Heritage and Contemporary Take, Beyond Cultural Heritage we are supporting museums, heritage sites, the cultural and education sectors to engage young people with cultural heritage. Through better understanding of shared cultural heritage in South Asia, we aim to address these needs and foster inclusion and respect for diversity. 

WOW - Women of the World Festivals in South Asia

In partnership with the WOW Foundation and Southbank Centre, British Council has supported and helped set up WOW – Women of the World Festivals in Karachi (2016, 2017, 2018), Kathmandu (2016, 2018), Colombo (2017) and Dhaka (2019). WOW will also take place in Hunza (Northern Pakistan) to engage with people in more rural areas.

WOW festivals celebrate women and girls, take a frank look at what prevents them from achieving their potential, and raise awareness globally of the issues they face and possible solutions. The festivals are open to everyone - women and men, girls and boys. They are locally-led and connect with international partners and actors.

Before the festivals, think-ins are held across the country to bring people together to discuss the most relevant topics for women today and what they'd like to see represented. The festivals are made up of bites (short talks), performances, activism, food, music, mentoring and workshops and bring together artists, writers, politicians, comedians, activists and more.

Creating Heroines

Creating Heroines is an international collaborative project run by the British Council and developed as a result of the WOW Festivals in the region. It brings together female artists, graphic novelists, and illustrators from across South Asia and the UK to explore themes of overlooked heroines from the past and imagined heroines for the future.

Creating Heroines workshops have taken place at WOW Karachi, WOW Colombo, WOW Kathmandu and WOW London to encourage crowd sourced conversations, challenge stereotypes and share women's stories. In 2018, a panel discussion and networking event took place as part of the UN Women #HeForShe Arts Week in London, on the theme of female role models in the arts and the importance of the arts in shaping and challenging gender stereotypes and norms.

Creating Heroines was also presented at the European Development Days 2018, a large-scale conference and Europe's most significant annual forum on international development organised by the European Commission, which unites more than 8,000 people from over 140 countries every year. A stand was organised on the theme of Women and Girls’ voice and participation, to open up a discussion around gender equality and women's empowerment through our Women of the World (WOW) festivals and Creating Heroines projects in South Asia.

View Zine

See the evaluation report of Creating Heroines here

Contemporary Take, Beyond Cultural Heritage

In collaboration with the Prince Claus Fund, The Contemporary Take, Beyond Cultural Heritage programme aims to support young people to engage with their cultural heritage in South Asia. It provides grants to individual artists and cultural organisations to carry out contemporary artistic interventions locally (7 in India, 3 Pakistan, 2 Bangladesh, 1 Nepal). Projects range from photography, digital art, gaming, audio-visual, and performing arts to explore themes of heritage and identity.

Take a look at the project summaries here.

Our Shared Cultural Heritage

Our Shared Cultural Heritage is a youth-led heritage project that suppprts young people aged 11-21 from around the UK and South Asia to come together to explore their shared cultural heritage.

As part of the Heritage Lottery fund’s Kick the Dust programme, hundreds of young people are developing new skills through workshops, training and research. They are helping museums to develop new methods and ideas to engage and connect with young people. The project is being delivered in Glasgow and Manchester in partnership with Manchester Museums and Galleries Group, Glasgow Life, and UK Youth.

See also

External links