Catwalk to Freedom is a first-of-its kind initiative to use high fashion to tell the stories of South Sudanese girls facing early child marriage. We have documented through narrative, photography and video the journeys of girls in South Sudan and Kenya who have experienced early marriage and who have fled or refused marriage, often at the expense of their own physical and emotional harm.
HOW DOES CHILD MARRIAGE PLAY OUT IN SOUTH SUDAN
In South Sudan, fifty-two percent of girls under the age of eighteen are married. High poverty rates and limited economic opportunities drives their families into a race “to sell off” their daughters as young as twelve years old to men 30 – 40 years their senior, in exchange for sizable bride-prices or dowries, ranging in value from 10,000 – 50,000 USD. Once married, South Sudanese girls drop out of school (only one percent of girls are enrolled in secondary school in S. Sudan), and are at a higher risk of maternal mortality (S. Sudan has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world), and experience high levels of domestic abuse.
WHY USE FASHION TO TELL THIS STORY
We know that pairing child brides with high fashion is an unlikely couple; but that is the beauty of the concept. South Sudanese women have long been sought after by the fashion industry for their tall slender builds. So working with the fashion industry to raise awareness about social issues facing the community is a natural fit. Moreover, fashion has always been used to inspire and transform. At Catwalk to Freedom; we hope that a few beautiful dresses and well placed accessories will help girls facing child marriage to imagine a more vibrant future for themselves and in the process help the world see that these young girls are worth protecting and investing in.
OTHER THAN TAKING PICTURES, WHAT ARE YOU DOING AND HOW WILL IT HELP YOUNG GIRLS
We have taken pictures in South Sudan and in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Northern Kenya, and will soon be traveling to Ethiopia and Uganda to hear and document more stories to be the focus of various art exhibits around the world. The photos will be sold and all of the proceeds will go to support programs and scholarships for the girls we have visited.
Beyond photography, Catwalk to Freedom also intends to address the economic drivers of early marriage (bride price payments and financial contribution to the family) through skills training, micro-business programs, and job creation. Our team is prototyping integrated girl-centered approaches including investment clubs, solar powered startups, child care circles, and school fee funds, to determine which programs yield the greatest potential to scale and the most positive outcomes for young girls. Learn more about our initiatives by following our blog.
In 2017-18, we launched our most ambitious project to date and began filming a documentary that chronicles several South Sudanese girls who are facing early marriage. Their stories will center around using the world’s most coveted fashion runways to pay off their dowries/bride-price, a key driver into early child marriage, and begin making their own life’s choices.