The little girl giant

In December 2017, following the UK WOW Foundation’s Women of the World Festival founded by Jude Kelly, in Colombo, a breakfast wrap-up meeting was held to gather feedback and suggestions from women’s groups who participated in the festival on how the success and learning can be sustained. Out of this the British Council launched the ‘Voices & Choices’ Grants Scheme where anyone who participated at WOW could send in a project proposal.  They could be a speaker, an artist, a stall owner, or an audience member. They just needed to have been inspired and have an idea they wanted to implement which will empower women & girls in Sri Lanka.

Our overall reach through all the grant activity was: digital – 615,557 ; community members – 9753 ; artists, gender and development professionals - 85 ; institutions/organisations – 30 ; websites – 313,969 

Eight projects were seed-funded on the themes and issues arising from the Women Of the World festival:

Why Saama? Little Girl Giant

Produced by Sulochana Dissanayake, artistic director of Power of Play, is a play about a girl who becomes a giant by never adhering to the cultural norms constructed by society, watch here. Throughout the performance which uses puppetry, music, and mime, stereotypical questions on gender are cleverly intertwined and addressed, creating a safe, inclusive space for children to enjoy, learn and engage in the presence of their teachers. Question and answer sessions following the performance allow the children to explore their views. The project received the Sri Lankan Ministry of Education's approval giving it acceptance at a national level. The project engaged with 9K students and teachers across the country. 

“"Why Saama" is one of the most engaging and educational plays I have seen in a long time. Given that there are very few programs such as this catering mostly to young children, adolescents and teenagers, I feel it really plays a critical role in creating a space to talk about issues of gender equality, sexual harassment and domestic violence.”

Jayanthi Kuru-Utumpala, Gender Specialist

Songs and music videos creating awareness of gender based violence and self-harm

Popular singer Ashanthi de Alwis produced two singles, 'Rajiniye' highlighting Gender-Based Violence, and ‘Hitha Danne Mithuranne’ creating awareness on self-harm where she collaborated with popular artists Randhir & Manasick and the national mobile telecom to promote the song digitally.Rupees 1 million from digital downloads of the single was raised and all proceeds were donated to the mental health services NGO, Sumithrayo to sustain their suicide helplines.

Rajiniye, I feel, is one of the best songs I’ve produced personally,”

 - Ashanthi de Alwis, Music video project grantee / producer

Transforming communities: Voices and Choices of Women and Girls

A project by Samitha Sugathimala, gender specialist at the Foundation for Innovative Social Development, created a collection of sixty stories of rural women leaders and girls. Each story from this publication is an eye opener for the reader to dive into the world of rural women leaders and broadens community understanding on traditional leadership of women beyond associations and societies and encourages upcoming girls – leaders who aspire to become influential change makers in their communities.

“This publication fulfils a long-felt dream of mine.”

“When women and girls have their voice heard and have a sense of their agency - when they are truly empowered with social and economic opportunities and a have a say over the things that affect their lives and their families, that’s when we know that women truly exist. This publication presents such women and girls.”

- Samitha Sugathimala, Transforming Communities project grantee / producer

Consent and Complicity

A forum theatre performance produced by Tracy Holsinger and her theatre company 'Mind Adventures' created awareness of issues around online bullying and sexual exploitation of girls in the online environment. They are now having ticketed performances for audiences.

“The performance itself was very successful. The audience responded extremely positively and were actively engaged throughout. Gender justice activists often complain about the lack of sexual and reproductive health education and awareness in schools, and our experience in this respect seems to corroborate their concerns.”

- Tracy Holsinger, Consent & Complicity project grantee / producer


We hear you!

A project by Sarah Soysa, sexual and reproductive health specialist and her team at Youth Advocacy Network Sri Lanka (YANSL), launched a pilot project in collaboration with The Ceylon School for the deaf Rathmalana, where a series of comprehensive sessions on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) meant to sensitize the teachers and students was conducted and a computer based learning tool was introduced for the students at the school. An inclusive and interactive website was also created and covers topics like anatomy, relationships, gender, pleasure, contraception, STIs and HIV, and sexual abuse & harassment and is accessible for people with hearing disabilities, visual impairment and also any neurotypical person to find information on sexual and reproductive health. 

“The website will be updated and maintained by YANSL and will be used in all future advocacy initiatives done by YANSL. The website and the advocacy videos will be used in policymaking discussions as well (example, YANSL as a member of the technical advisory committee in national adolescent and youth health strategy by the family health bureau, ministry of health is using the material and the website as a primary advocacy tool).”

- Sarah Soysa and her team at Youth Advocacy Network Sri Lanka, We Hear You! Project grantee / producers


A project by Ponni Arasu, theatre practitioner and Sarala Emmanual, gender activist, brought together 85 performers and gender practitioners/activists from 10 organisations across North and East of Sri Lanka to create a safe space and create links between the organisations to work together on using performance to address gender issues in their communities.

“This workshop is an example of the larger world beyond our small universes of our homes that women and girls are often constricted within.”

- Participant at the Kalam project workshops

The Language We Speak

A project by Paba Deshapriya, sexual, reproductive health and gender specialist at The Grassrooted Trust, built capacity of 32 young people’s skills to use photography and writing to create online content (Tamil and Sinhalese) for their website on gender based, intimate partner and sexual violence, and has reached an audience of over 300K. The project also built the capacity of a group of 10 female writers from Kurunegala, with an increased understanding of gender, sexuality, and violence, who are running a bi-monthly magazine to educate rural women. Their magazine ‘Athwela’ will be on for a wider reach.

“This opportunity helped me learn how to write about in-depth issues. Since I was new to journalism, the experience and training of established writers and journalists was immensely useful. Although I always knew that women faced many difficulties, I couldn’t do anything about it. It felt good to finally do something about it. I found friends whom I will cherish for the rest of my life.”

- Participant at the Language We Speak project workshops, Mohammed Farik, student at Peradeniya University 

Young Women’s Leadership Network

A project by Mahisha Balraj, and her team of youth activists from Hashtag Generation organised a series of thematic workshops on gender for 28 young women from the Faculty of Law, University of Colombo. These sessions were also complemented with capacity building sessions to empower the participants to become strong advocates for gender equality within and outside the university structures and covered topics such as social media advocacy, digital security, public speaking, access to justice and right to information. 21 resource personnel aided in the knowledge sharing and facilitation of the sessions. The project also produced an animation video highlighting the gender inequalities in the state university system which had an audience reach of 93K on social media platforms: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

“Being a part of the Young Women’s leadership Network challenged me to question some beliefs I had and helped me learn and grow. I realized it’s much harder to unlearn the things you’ve heard growing up than actually learn new things.”

- Participant at the Young Women’s Leadership Network project workshops, Sandya Kumari, University of Colombo

This programme provided a platform for women inspired to implement their own gender equality initiatives using creativity, innovation or digital technology to create new narratives and fresh approaches to counter deep-rooted and long-standing negative perceptions and practices, while building the grantee’s capacity to address gender related challenges in a new form, organise community engagement events, increase their confidence and profile to access other related opportunities / partnerships or share best practice, knowledge and expertise with artists, development or other professionals working in the gender space, and advocate for gender equality through their work.

Challenging the issues faced by Women and Girls – Arts for Social Change Projects 

The ambition to reach gender equity and eliminate disadvantage is at the heart of our Women and Girls work recognising that the key issues for Sri Lanka are a very high rate of domestic violence, sexual harassment, social media exploitation, suicide rates, over-protection of girls, and under-employment despite good educational achievements. Whilst addressing some of these issues directly, in the longer term our interventions are aimed at attitudinal change, tackling gender norms and attitudes among women and girls, as well as men and boys, and thus enabling the former to participate fully in society.

Our current and future programmes focus on reducing violence, creating role models, and tackling social media harassment through community-based interventions, as well as raising awareness, increasing aspirations for career opportunities and stimulating attitude change through providing a voice, a choice and agency for female empowerment and change.