UN Women in Pakistan is dedicated to protecting the rights of girls and women in the country.
Our brief was to come up with a unique, disruptive idea that would not only raise awareness of the issue of child marriages, but to do it at a zero media budget. The strategic angle was to educate the government and the public about the long-term harmful effects of getting a girl married young instead of educating her.
We had two major objectives from the campaign:
1. Create a stir and change mindsets: Child marriages in Pakistan have been traditionally either accepted as a cultural practice, or have been mostly ignored as a problem. We wanted to raise the volume of the conversation around the topic by informing the public about the real cost of early marriages: education, and the subsequent loss of women’s empowerment.
2. Influence a measurable action through government that protects girls: We intended to create enough noise around the problem to reach the ears and desks of parliamentary figures and the Islamic Council of Pakistan, which holds much sway over lawmakers. The campaign was designed to put pressure on government bodies to influence a change in existing laws.
Describe the cultural/social/political climate in your region and the significance of your campaign within this context
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. The practice of child, early and forced marriage is widespread and occurs in all regions of Pakistan.
Bills 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.
Describe the creative idea
The Pakistani bride is known to wear an elaborate wedding outfit — bright, colorful, heavily embroidered dresses. Every year, the Pakistani bridal-wear fashion industry hosts large events in which new styles are revealed by big name designers.
In collaboration with the nation's best known bridal-wear artist Ali Xeeshan, we meticulously designed a new kind of a bridal gown — one that symbolizes the trade-off that takes place when a girl is married young and is deprived of her right to an education.
“The Bridal Uniform” was crafted by merging traditional Pakistani wedding outfit embroidery patterns with an everyday government schoolgirl's uniform.
To launch the dress, we came up with the idea of hijacking the country's biggest bridal-wear fashion show, attended by hundreds of celebrities and well covered by media.
Describe the strategy
The campaign targeted people on two levels. Our first target audience was influencers and media personnel who could spread the conversation that would built pressure to involve policymakers and, in turn, the government. And second, through on-ground sessions, directly addressing the masses where these practices were widely prevalent.
In addressing the problem, we had to also circumnavigate religious sensitivities, and device a plan that would be approachable to all by focusing on a developmental angle. The strategy, thus, was to emphasize what a girl loses when she is married off too early: education.
UN Women data showed us that most early marriages resulted in girls stopping their schooling, and therefore being condemned to an illiterate and unempowered life. Once that strategic pillar was set, we focused on a creative solution that would be disruptive enough to kickstart a conversation that would reach all the way into government circles.
Describe the execution
The Bridal Uniform had been created by merging traditional wedding outfit embroidery patterns with a common government school girl's uniform. Renowned fashion designer Ali Xeeshan had meticulously researched bridal gown designs and found the perfect balance of what a school uniform would look like as a dress for a wedding, and hand stitched the piece.
To perform our stunt, we picked the biggest bridal fashion show in the country where we knew we would get maximum media coverage. The project was top secret, and even the show organizers were not aware of the stunt until it was revealed.
Describe the results/impact
The disruptive stunt went viral and generated almost 500 million social and news-media impressions, more than any campaign for this cause has ever done in the country. We had successfully utilized the existing media presence to cover our stunt for free.
The topic of child marriages started trending, and both the international and local press reported on it. A sitting senator of parliament took note and a bill to raise the minimum marriage age to 18 has now been approved by the Pakistan Senate. The senator has directly acknowledged the effect of this campaign in the efforts to pass the law.
#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, LosAngeles and Oslo, and talks are underway to feature the stunt at New York Fashion Week.