In Pakistan, bridals usually follow a uniform recipe from the villages to the big city: a traditional silhouette of lehnga or gharara paired with a shirt, touches of the contemporary, nods to the past, jewelry inherited, borrowed or picked just for the day and topped off with a dupatta that differentiates the bride from her every day. At this year’s Pantene Bridal Couture Week, the king of putting on a show, Ali Xeeshan, used his platform to bring a stark spotlight on the epidemic of child marriages in Pakistan.
Hand in hand with UN Women, whom Ali reached out to for the unique collaboration, Ali’s finale had a young school aged girl dressed in a school uniform (outfitted with bridal trappings, like borders and work) walk the ramp. Adorned in the traditional jewels that for generations have marked one a bride, including a matha paati and nath, and hands painted with mehndi. The image of a young girl amidst the numerous brides that walked all weekend was disarming and heart breaking and has gone viral on social media.
Last year Ali used his platform at bridal week to highlight the issue of forced marriage in Pakistan, where bridal consent has been shooed away as one of importance more times than we even know. This year the tackling of the issue comes from the lack of improvement for circumstances surrounding child marriage in Pakistan, even when there are countless organizations and groups fighting to not only change laws regarding it but have those laws hold defiers accountable.
According to UN Women’s official press release on the collaboration: Pakistan’s Child Marriage Restraint Act (CMRA) sets the legal age of marriage to be 16 for women and 18 for men, but it is still estimated that more than 20% of women are married off before the age of 18 and 3% overall do not even cross the age of 15 before they get married. There have been efforts to increase the legal age of marriage from 16 to 18 for women all across the nation but this has faced criticism and resistance. Despite having dire consequences for defying the legislation, child marriages are still a norm in Pakistan.
Jamshed Kazi, Country Representative for UN Women Pakistan said: “It’s astounding how women aren’t allowed to drive or vote before the age of 18 and at the same time, they’re forced into this lifelong commitment way before they reach that age.” The show was followed up by UN Women’s website directing people to head tourging those stopping by to learn more to also sign a petition urging Pakistan’s Parliament to push the issue and have the marriage age for women to be upped to 18.
Proceeds from Ali Xeeshan’s collection will be donated to Pirbhat Women’s Development Society and Sujag Sansar, organizations striving to end violence against women and working against early child marriages in Pakistan.