An illustration by Bandana Tulachan "It's the mountains she'll conquer and the places she'll go to"
Illustration produced by Bandana Tulachan at a Creating Heroines workshop in Nepal, 2018 ©

British Council

Barriers to gender equality and social cohesion in South Asia

South Asia is home to very diverse communities and therefore cultural heritage; historically cross cultural interactions have formed the social fabric of the region. However, current and recent conflicts, inequality and social exclusion, particularly connected to age, gender, race and ethnicity is threatening this diversity, plurality and freedom of expression, inhibiting harmonious interaction among people and groups with varied and dynamic cultural identities as well as their willingness to live together.

Our programme in South Asia supports museums, heritage sites, the cultural and education sectors to engage young people with cultural heritage. Through better understanding of shared cultural heritage, we aim to foster inclusion, respect for diversity in addition to a sense of belonging, participation and legitimacy.

The empowerment of women and girls is a further thematic priority across our regional arts work. We develop programmes 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. 

Contemporary Take, Beyond Cultural Heritage 

The Contemporary Take, Beyond Cultural Heritage programme aims to support individual artists as well as cultural organisations within Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. In collaboration with the Prince Claus Fund, the grant programme focuses on initiatives enabling young people to engage with cultural heritage in South Asia through contemporary artistic interventions locally. Both the Prince Claus Fund and the British Council believe that for societies to flourish, peoples of a community need a sense of belonging, participation and legitimacy.

Contemporary Take, Beyond Cultural Heritage has supported the Culture Connect project in Pakistan, which seeks to rethink and challenge the ways in which youth engage with heritage sites, galleries, and museums. Another example is the Disappearing Roots project in Bangladesh, which challenges the way that indigenous history is portrayed in mainstream media. 

WOW - Women of the World Festivals in South Asia

Southbank Centre's WOW – Women of the World Festival is a major global festival that brings together people from all corners of society to celebrate the achievements of women and girls and look at the barriers they face. WOW is for everyone; it is bold and broad-based in approach, both lively and serious, bringing together people from all corners of society. The activities include talks, performances, activism, workshops, food, music, mentoring and workshops.

British Council has partnered with Southbank Centre to bring WOW to South Asia and has, thus far, delivered five WOW Festivals in Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka.  

Creating Heroines

Creating Heroines is an associated international project run by the British Council that brings together female artists, graphic novelists and illustrators to explore the themes of overlooked heroines from the past and imagined heroines for the future.

Workshops and pop-up stalls have taken place around WOW festivals to spark debate, challenge stereotypes and share women’s stories in cartoons and illustrations. Collaborative workshops, including puppet and graphic novel workshops, have been held across South Asia to foster valuable new connections between female artists from different countries and cultures. 

Past projects

Turquoise Mountain Trust: Reviving traditional Afghan arts