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International Day of the Girl: Interview with VOW for Girls Ambassador Sarah Haywood

On the International Day of the Girl, we sat down with Global Ambassador Sarah Haywood to talk about her role in the charity VOW for Girls.

Sarah Haywood (white, blonde woman wearing a navy shirt and black trousers) seating among a display of pink and purple flowers in front of a laid table

Sarah Haywood (white, blonde woman wearing a navy shirt and black trousers) seating among a display of pink and purple flowers in front of a laid table

In 2011, the United Nations named 11th October the International Day of the Girl. Today, 11th October is recognised throughout the world as a day when we come together to celebrate the power of girls and highlight the difficulties they face. One of the major difficulties young girls face today is the issue of child marriage. 

To learn more about this, we sat down with Sarah Haywood, wedding planner and ambassador for VOW for Girls, a global movement that partners with brands, individuals and the wedding industry with the aim of ending the international child marriage crisis, to find out more about the organisation and how we can help. 

What is VOW's vision?

Every three seconds, somewhere in the world a girl becomes a child bride. That’s a shocking statistic and translates to 12 million girls every year married under the age of 18. VOW for Girls envisions a world where no child is ever a bride and is working with grassroot  organizations to try and eradicate it. 

The international child marriage crisis is significantly under recognized, resulting in a funding gap to resource organizations on the ground that work to safeguard girls and their futures. That is why VOW for Girls exists – to raise funds and awareness to support community-led organizations undertaking this powerful work. 

What constitutes child marriage?

Child marriage is any formal marriage or informal union where one or both parties are under the age of 18. Often it involves a child marrying an adult. Most of these unions impact girls and are not rooted in love or choice.

The issue crosses continents, cultures and religions. Earlier this year In England and Wales the legal age of marriage and civil partnership was raised from 16 to 18 to protect children from child marriage.

How does child marriage affect girls? 

Child marriage has devastating consequences for girls and is a violation of their basic human rights. It directly impacts girls' education, health, and their physical and emotional well-being. 

Women’s and girls’ rights are under attack more than ever and they are paying the price for the negative effects related to conflict, climate,  and the pandemic. The latter set back substantial progress in ending child marriage and saw the first increase in child marriages in a decade.

How do you tackle the root causes of child marriage?

This crisis is fuelled by gender inequality, poverty, social norms, and more recently, global crises. Too frequently girls’ lives are not valued the same as boys’ lives. There is no singular way to tackle the crisis of child marriage as there are many drivers to the issue. 

It looks different in every community. This requires partnerships on the ground who understand the unique challenges relating to that community. VOW for Girls work is centred around elevating girls’ voices and their lived experiences and listening to grassroots organizations and their leaders on what are the most effective solutions.

What are your most urgent priorities?

In addition to working on my own business and clients, I’m focused on supporting girls rights around the world. I am supporting VOW for Girls to grow as an organization so we can deliver the resources needed to assist end this crisis and help millions of girls choose love on their own terms.

How can my wedding day help make a difference?

There are several ways to easily include VOW for Girls into your wedding planning and support a good cause as part of your big day. We know that celebrations of love can be a force for good.

There are a few easy ways to support:  including setting up a charitable wedding registry, donating in honour of your guests in lieu of (or as well as!) favours, or purchasing products from VOW’s brand partners that donate with every sale.

Your anniversary too is a wonderful opportunity to renew your commitment to each other – and your commitment to girls’ rights around the world.  100% of all funds raised by VOW for Girls goes directly to grassroot organizations. 

What is your role with the organization?

I am VOW’s first Global Ambassador and I lend my business and personal platforms to raise awareness and funds. My aim has also been to unite my colleagues in the global wedding industry in our goal to end child marriage. 

Why did you decide to get involved?

In the time it has taken you to read this interview, 40 girls will have been married. I think that is unacceptable and impossible to ignore. I have built a business celebrating marriage with couples who have a choice about how they live, who love and when they marry. But that choice is not extended to 12 million girls across the world forced into marriage every single year.

The issue is complex, but given the scale of the problem, it’s critical that the work of VOW for Girls is highlighted to a wider global audience. Who better to do that than people invested in the celebration of marriage. I invite other wedding professionals to join me by aligning their businesses with VOW for Girls and sharing the work of VOW with their clients because #LoveIsOurBusiness.

How can I keep up to date with your work?

To learn more about VOW for Girls and how you can join our movement and VOW your wedding, visit VOW for Girls. If you are a wedding professional please consider taking the #LoveIsOurBusiness pledge and joining VOW Pro. You can follow along with me at @sarahhaywoodweddings.