Pakistan has one of the worst records of child marriages in the world: almost a quarter of all Pakistani women in the last ten years have been married before the age of 18. Efforts to raise the legal marriage age to 18 have been rejected previously by the government on religious grounds, or by being influenced by decision makers in the country's Islamic Council.
Our brief was to come up with a unique, disruptive idea that would not only raise awareness of the issue at a zero media budget, but also educate the public about the long-term harmful effects of getting a girl married young instead of educating her.
The idea revolved around a cultural icon: Pakistani brides are known to wear elaborate wedding outfits: bright, colorful, heavily embroidered dresses combined with flashy jewelery. Every year, the bridal-wear fashion industry in Pakistan hosts large events in which new styles are revealed for that year. These shows are typically attended by local celebrities.
This year, our idea was to collaborate with the nation's best known fashion designer to design a new kind of bridal gown - one that highlights the fact that an early marriage results in loss of education and empowerment. This gown would then be launched by hijacking the country's largest bridal-wear fashion show - the annual Bridal Couture Show.
The "Bridal Uniform" was designed by merging a typical schoolgirl's uniform and a traditional Pakistani bride's wedding gown, using local embroidery patterns and motifs sewn directly into the uniform.
The disruptive stunt went viral and generated almost half a billion social and news-media impressions, more than any campaign for this cause has ever done in the country. All due to a dress that cost under $100 to make.
The topic of child marriages started trending in the country immediately, and both the international and local press reported on it. A sitting senator of parliament took note and a bill proposing to raise the legal marriage age to 18 was sent to the Islamic Council of Pakistan, who in turn proposed a groundbreaking amendment: a girl will not be legally allowed to leave her parents’ house until she turned 18, regardless of whether she is married earlier. This is a monumental step towards protecting girls, and at the least allowing them to complete their education. The senator has directly acknowledged the effect of this campaign in the efforts to pass the bill.
We also recorded a direct shift in mindset on ground level, in which parents were made aware of the necessity of education.
#BridalUniform, besides being adopted by on-ground local NGOs to educate villagers on the importance of keeping girls in schools, has also made an appearance on catwalks in Berlin and LosAngeles, and talks are underway to feature the stunt at New York Fashion Week to highlight the same issue in seven different countries.