HerStory Foundation is a not-for-profit that creates innovative content for development, with a focus on gender equality, youth empowerment and women’s rights. We use storytelling, illustration, design, and dialogue to instill empowering and inspiring messages in children, youth and adults. Our vision as an agent of change is to ensure that we create impactful and quality development content to find creative, non-conventional ways of disseminating knowledge, steering more towards illustrated children's books and experiential learning as opposed to traditional advocacy tactics. Holding fast to the belief that storytellers and artists are catalysts of change, our work challenges social norms and prejudices, and proposes narratives about unity, inclusion and diversity.
Over the last four decades, various government programs, social initiatives and non governmental efforts have contributed to increasing the social, political, and economic participation of women in Bangladesh. Every year sees more and more women in leadership positions in government, business, and civil society. Women of different ages and backgrounds are also excelling in what were previously male dominated fields such as film, sports, and technology.
However, the marginalisation of women in both public and private spheres still remains a pressing concern. Women are still underrepresented across sectors, still oppressed by discriminatory laws and processes, and still held back by social barriers perpetuated by patriarchal mindsets. For us, this means that the challenge must be addressed through creative and diverse means in order to influence individual and community level change.
HerStory Foundation began its journey in 2016 by building an archive of female histories through interviews and ongoing research to examine how far women in Bangladesh have come, and what more is left to be done. In March 2017, we formed as a small team to produce the HerStory Trailblazers exhibition at EMK Center for International Women’s Day.
The launching event was an educational exhibition of portraits of 20 female trailblazers of Bangladesh, created during a 2 day residency that brought together 20 female artists of different generations and disciplines. The response and feedback to the educational exhibition was overwhelming, and brought to light the lack of content on female history. Through this exhibition, we identified a cultural blind spot and the demand for gender equality in history and storytelling. This was the beginning of our journey as content creators.
Following the success of the exhibition, we created an illustrated children's book based on the biographies of 20 Supergirls from greater Bengal and Bangladesh . In November 2017 we launched HerStories: The Adventures of Supergirls at the annual Dhaka Lit Fest. The illustrated children’s book included 21 stories of exceptional women of Bengal and present-day Bangladesh (from the astrologer and poet Khana to weightlifter Mabia Akhter). The book was created by a team of over 30 researchers, illustrators, designers, writers, translators and editors. It is available in English and in Bangla and has gone through 3 print runs. We produced a short video about the book to communicate its objectives and spirit.
In 2018, we produced the second volume of HerStories: The Adventures of Supergirls. Both volumes of the HerStories series are now available in English and Bangla, distributed throughout Dhaka and Chittagong, available online through HerStory Foundation, as well as leading book retailer Rokomari. The books are of a very high-quality, hard-cover and printed with child-friendly, non-toxic ink to comply with regulations for children’s publications. Today, the books are being used by parents and educators to teach the history of the region through a gender lens. The stories are short and contain a moral lesson that children can incorporate into their approach to life.
A book only comes to life when read, and to ensure that HerStories really inspires girls and boys, we organize Incredible Read-Alouds in partner schools. During the reading sessions we discuss key topics in the stories (self-reliance, social responsibility, self-respect, community, equality, environment etc.) and help children envision alternative futures - something we have noticed is lacking in most rural school children. This creative form of storytelling allows children to learn key decision making skills, framing their views of themselves, of gender roles, as well as the world around them.
In 2018, with the support of the Edward Kennedy Center for Public Service and The Arts, we developed a teaching tool to compliment the first volume of HerStories. This Modular Teaching Pack can be used in over-crowded, under-staffed classrooms that have few resources to teach students the fundamental lessons of the book, thus creating gender neutral classrooms.
In addition to content development, we also work with teachers to launch our original content in classrooms, through specially designed teaching materials and Read-Alouds. In September 2019, we launched the HerStory Reading Fellowship in partnership with the Women and Gender Studies Department of Dhaka University and IUB. The one-year program has trained Fellows to read HerStories to students of class VI and guide them through discussions of key topics (gender equality, life plans, social responsibility, civil rights etc.). The Fellows undertake monthly school visits for Incredible Read-Alouds to practice their skills. This is a pilot project which will impact 10 underserved communities in Dhaka and reach approximately 500 people. For the second cohort in 2020, we aim to double that number.
Taramon is HerStory Foundation’s latest venture and aims to serve the information needs of urban women. The content is targeted towards women aged 18 - 45 and is focused on well-being, relationships, lifestyle and social issues concerning women that are relevant to the context of Bangladesh. Taramon aims to inspire, inform, and engage women of different ages and backgrounds by providing interesting and informative written and visual content that can help women navigate their various social and personal challenges. It is a space for women to express themselves, showcase their successes, and build a supportive network. Content on the blog intends to generate discussion and challenge sexist social narratives by presenting a female perspective.
Over the course of the past few years, alongside our own in-house pursuits, we have also worked with a number of clients, undertaking a range of different projects whose goals align with ours, to ensure that the Foundation remains sustainable. Our expertise lies in content curation, managing publications and event curations, among others. From publication projects to social media campaigns to event curation, we take on a dynamic range of projects.