Reducing gender disparities in economic life, in leadership and decision making, in education and in health improves the lives of men and boys as well as women and girls. Evidence shows that more gender-inclusive societies experience reduced levels of conflict,  increased competitiveness and economic growth  and more representative governance.  As recent research has shown, including the Global Education Monitoring report, girls and women in South Asian countries have less access to education than boys and men, including opportunities to develop the digital skills increasingly required for employment and communication. This gender-based digital divide can lead to future skills imbalance and unequal life chances for women. 
Building gender equality
Access to English and digital skills development
In an effort to contribute to bridging the gender digital divide, the British Council is implementing the English and Digital for Girls’ Education (EDGE) programme in India, Bangladesh and Nepal. Delivered in partnership with local development organisations, EDGE uses non-formal, community-based, peer-led clubs to provide opportunities for girls to improve their English and digital skills and raise awareness of relevant social issues. The overarching goal is that adolescent girls from marginalised communities can make more informed and independent life choices, in order to contribute more fully to their family, society and the economy.
In addition, EDGE aims to improve the leadership skills of a smaller group of Peer Group Leaders (PGLs) drawn from the same communities as the club participants. The importance of developing young leaders to promote gender equality through non-formal education has been emphasised in the gender review of the 2016 Global Education Monitoring report by UNESCO which states that ‘non-formal education can offer young people opportunities to develop the leadership skills to promote gender equality in their peer groups and communities and throughout their lives’ (pg.41).
To date, 759 PGLs have been trained across the three countries, running sessions in 356 clubs and reaching 9018 participating adolescent girls. Advocacy work among community leaders and parents is also a feature of the programme, to build trust and understanding of the project objectives and awareness of ways these groups can actively promote more equitable opportunities for girls and women.
Promoting gender equality within school systems
The Pudumai Palli Project in Chennai (P3DISC), funded by the MacArthur Foundation aims to improve the livelihood prospects of students, particularly girls, in socio-economically marginalised urban communities by enhancing their 21st century skills, including English, ICT, enterprise and leadership skills. P3DISC is delivered in partnership with the Corporation of Chennai and is embedded into the secondary school system, with 70 participating schools. After school clubs offer opportunities for girls to develop their skills as club leaders, working with boys and girls on focused projects and activities.
A series of training modules around gender issues have also been developed for the school’s Head Teachers and teachers, highlighting common ways in which gender biases can be perpetuated in the school environment and strategies for how these can be addressed.
At the British Council, we see issues of equality and diversity as a crucial part of our work in cultural relations. For further information on the British Council’s approach to promoting gender quality: www.britishcouncil.in/sites/default/files/women_and_girls_the_british_council_approach.pdf
For more information on the EDGE project: https://www.britishcouncil.in/english-and-digital-girls-education-india
For more information on the P3DISC project: https://www.britishcouncil.in/p3disc
 Hudson, V et al. (2012) Sex and World Peace. Colombia University Press
 World Bank (2012) Gender and Development
 www.un.org, 2015