International Women's Day was first recognized in 1977 by the United Nations as a result of the labor movements at the turn of the 20th century. The day celebrated annually has served as a reminder to continually lift up and celebrate the hard work and efforts of women across the world. This year the United Nations has declared the theme for International Women's Day, "Women in Leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world."
With all of the challenges the world has faced within the past year, women have continued to be on the front lines, fighting for equality, justice, and freedom. As a woman-founded business, we here at AP continue to celebrate the efforts of women in the wedding industry and beyond. We had the privilege of interviewing Clay Dunn, CEO of VOW for Girls about how the pandemic has hastened the need to fight for equality for all, why it's important to work to end child marriage, and how we as wedding pros and consumers of the wedding industry can all take part in the fight for justice.
In brief, what is the story behind VOW?
The idea for VOW was sparked after VOW’s founder, Mabel van Oranje, a human rights activist, attended a wedding where guests were encouraged to make a charitable donation in lieu of gifts. At that moment, Mabel had an aha moment. What if she could marry the wedding industry to the cause she championed—ending child marriage? She recruited Darren Walker, the President of the Ford Foundation, as a co-founder, and VOW was born.
How have women-led this charge to end child marriage globally? Who are some of the notable women active in this fight for change with regard to ending child marriage?
Child marriage is a human rights violation, and ending child marriage is inherently about every girl being treated equally to boys. Supporting girls so they can own their futures and thrive is a way to ensure they grow to become healthy and strong women. Women all around the globe are at the forefront of leading change to end child marriage. When we look at the 150 local organizations supported by VOW, 90% are women-led or girl-led. These are women who see an opportunity for change in their communities, and we’re supporting them with the resources to make that change happen. For International Women’s Day, we’re profiling two of these incredible women. I encourage you to read more about their important work: Honest Fortunate Kansiime, Founder and Executive Director, Girls to Lead Africa Gayatri Buragohain, Founder and Executive Director, Feminist Approach to Technology.
Why is the fight to end child marriage so important?
All girls deserve the right to choose their own futures. Sadly, child marriage all too often erases so many of the important choices that a girl has about her life, taking away the opportunity to finish school, to choose love on her terms, and so much more. Ending child marriage is critical because it impacts girls all over the world, at a staggering rate. Every three seconds, a girl is married, leading to 12 million girls married each year before they reach the age of 18. When a girl has a chance to grow up, experience childhood, and make choices for herself, she is more likely to stay in school and have better health. She can also choose if or when to marry or expand her family. Her children, should she choose to have them, will have better health and greater opportunity as well. Ending child marriage has a host of benefits across various issues, including gender equality, education, girls’ rights, poverty, hunger, and maternal health.
With women having been the most financially impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic, how has the fight to end child marriage changed, or become more vital in the battle for equality and freedom?
Sadly we’re hearing from our grantees all over the world that COVID-19 is disrupting their work to prevent and end child marriage. Some experts say that the pandemic could ultimately lead to at least 13 million additional child marriages over the next decade. Undoubtedly, the pandemic is intensifying inequities already faced by girls, bringing even more urgency to this work.
What power does the wedding industry have to make this change in 2021 and beyond?
Every year, millions of couples celebrate their love by getting married, and millions of their family and friends celebrate with them. VOW thinks: what if we could share this love to do something bigger? VOW invites this tremendous industry to help end child marriage. As weddings resume, VOW is here to help couples add even more meaning to their special days. We are also here to help wedding vendors align their businesses with social impact. Research has shown that 90% of Gen Z believes companies must act to help solve social issues. In addition, 83% of Millennials want the companies they engage with to align with their values. VOW Pro is a program created for wedding professionals, providing easy ways to engage your couples and raise awareness and funds to end child marriage. Join this global network and stand up for every girl’s right to choose her own future at vowpro.org.
It’s easy to get involved with VOW:
To find out more about the mission behind VOW and to read the stories of Honest Fortunate Kansiime and Gayatri Buragohain click here.