"I do". Marriage should always be with the consent of both parties wanting to spend the rest of their lives together and promising to love and respect one another. Unfortunately this is not the case for victims of non consensual Ala Kachuu (bride kidnapping). For these women, the right to choose is taken away and unlike the romantic tradition 'Ala Kachuu' once had (with consent of both parties), these victims experience violent kidnapping, forced marriage which can often involve physical and psychological abuse - leading to a life of misery and rejection.

This year, on International Women's Day, we decided to make a stand for their rights and say NO to non consensual Ala Kachuu.

Saturday 8th March, the glorious sun was out and London was alive with events and activities taking place to mark International Women's Day. The Restless Beings team were at South Bank and Trafalgar Square where crowds gathered to hear music and speeches from activists. The atmosphere was uplifting, with women men and children from all different backgrounds coming together to champion women's rights. We created large polaroid frames, which proved to be the most popular, attracting lots of people who had fun posing for photos in them. In addition to this, we also had boards carrying serious messages which brought the issue closer to people's hearts.

Being part of this gathering was a great opportunity for us to engage with the public and tell them more about the practice of Ala Kachuu and our project in Kyrgyzstan which provides a refuge to victims and educational outreach programmes for youth so the practice of Ala Kachuu can be restored to its original consenting romantic roots, and not become abused and used as a tool to oppress and exploit women's rights and freedom.

The response was fantastic and heartwarming. People were genuinely interested in hearing about Ala Kachuu and gave us positive feedback saying "its great what you're doing". Many reflected on the basic freedoms that we have which others are denied. One man was already aware of bride kidnapping but in Nigeria, and was surprised to learn it is common in Central Asia. Another brave lady had experienced it herself and spoke of the abuse, guilt, emotional blackmail, and bruises she endured, and how she found the courage to get out of it. We also shared stories with women who experience a number of other types of injustices happening all over the world. Members of the Restless Beings team were particularly touched by an inspirational Latino lady who spoke about the suffering of women in Syria and Palestine.

Here's what some of the people involved had to say about the campaign:

"It was amazing. Feedback was so positive and it was really great because we were raising awareness creatively and in a way where people wanted to be willingly involved."
-Undleeb, Restless Beings Youth Officer
"It was the best one yet! So many inspiring women who were willing to share their story, it felt like there was a woman representing each culture and religion."
-Foreda, Restless Beings Research Officer
"The campaign was fun, energetic and very productive. It was beneficial to hold on International Women's Day as we were able to raise awareness amongst people who were passionate about women's rights. I would love to be involved in the campaign again :)"
-Sana, Volunteer
"What you guys are doing is so touching. There is so much power and love in numbers. I can't say how much these women appreciate what you're doing."
-Kurly, Member of public
Campaigns like this are so important in raising awareness to mobilise more people to want to make a difference for these women and to pressurise the Kyrgyzstan government to increase the punishment for these crimes and provide more support. Being at the heart of London, one of the biggest and most loved and visited cities in the world - also ensures this issue is kept at the forefront, and the neglected and abused women's experiences and struggles are not forgotten.

All in all, it was a beautiful day with beautiful people and we are excited to build our support base!

Find out more about our Ala Kachuu project here.

Selection of photos from the day below, full set of photos can be found here.

A big thank you to our photographers who kindly volunteered for this campaign; Baljit Sahib, Katherine Dinh, Dawud Muneer and Andrea Turner!

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