In June last year, thanks to financial support from the Scottish Government, British Council Scotland set about working with colleagues in Pakistan to look at strengthening cultural connections between the two countries.
We wanted to contribute to the empowerment of women and girls, a priority area for the British Council. Building on work already done in Pakistan, we designed a puppetry exchange to give an artist in each country the opportunity to collaborate and share their cultural and personal experience.
From Pakistan, the award-winning young puppeteer Yamina Peerzada was paired up with Scotland’s Emma Brierley, a young, talented multi-disciplinary artist who we selected through collaboration with Puppet Animation Scotland.
Having been introduced virtually in advance, Yamina visited Scotland in September 2018 where the two artists met in person for the first time. In the short space of a week, they developed a strong relationship, engaged in networking with the puppetry sector in Scotland and designed a workshop on the theme of body image.
The theme was one of a number embedded in the programme for the Women of the World (WoW) festival in Perth where the artists then delivered the workshop, allowing them to connect with a wider audience.
Founded by Jude Kelly at Southbank Centre, WoW is a global network of festivals which celebrate women and girls. It provides a platform and a safe space for women to share experiences, learn from each other and be inspired.
A reciprocal visit to Pakistan by Emma Brierley took place in April 2019, when she travelled to Lahore for six days to reconnect with Yamina and deliver a workshop in the community to groups comprising largely of college students.
The workshop, titled #MyBodyMyVoice, emphasises body positivity and was designed to challenge preconceptions, address stigma and be celebratory and fun for participants. As Yamina says:
“We had chosen ‘Body Image’ as a specific focus for our workshop because we felt it is a very common problem for people today, especially for women. We are constantly being bombarded with a specific type of body on television, our phones, social media, magazines etc. In Pakistan, we are obsessed with fair skin as racism runs deep in the subcontinent’s history, with its roots intertwined with caste and colonialism … we wanted girls to discover their own strength, talent and abilities and to embrace the beauty that is inside them rather than focus on what society tells them about their bodies and physical appearance.”
The workshop has a lasting legacy which is already being put to work. As an organisation that places equalities, diversity and inclusion at the heart of all we do, and in celebration of Mental Health Awareness week, which this year had ‘body image’ as its theme, Emma was invited to deliver the workshop for British Council Scotland staff only last month.