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UPDATE: On November 6, Jeanne Smoot won the 2017 Professional Women in Advocacy Award for Excellence in a State Issue Campaign! Congratulations, Jeanne!

The Tahirih Justice Center’s Senior Counsel for Policy and Strategy, Jeanne Smoot, has been named a finalist for a 2017 Professional Women in Advocacy Award in recognition of her tireless work to end child marriage in the United States. Jeanne is one of three finalists for the “Excellence in a State Issue Campaign Award.”

Jeanne passionately leads Tahirih’s advocacy on behalf of girls who are married before age 18 in America today, often through coercion or force, and with lifelong, negative impacts on their health and well-being. Girls who marry at these young ages are more likely to experience domestic violence, loss of education, poverty, and a range of health problems. Jeanne’s advocacy to raise the minimum age of marriage and put in place critical legal protections is changing the course of girls’ lives.

Recently, Tahirih discovered that hundreds of girls each year, some as young as 13, were being married in our home state of Virginia, often to adult men. In just one legislative cycle, Jeanne secured bipartisan, bicameral sponsors for a bill to raise Virginia’s marriage age, and spent hundreds of hours carefully drafting legislation, building support among a diverse coalition of advocates and religious groups, educating lawmakers, and helping to shepherd the bill into law. Thanks to Jeanne’s commitment, Virginia became the first state in the nation to limit marriage to legal adults in 2016.

Jeanne’s victory reaches further: in just the last year since the Virginia law’s enactment, reform bills have been introduced or have passed major legislative milestones in a dozen states, and legislation is under development in others. In 2017, Jeanne drove a Texas bill from introduction to enactment in just one session. And the movement continues to build.

“Jeanne has brought her unique combination of energy, expertise, nonpartisanship, and inclusivity to each battle,” said Archi Pyati, Tahirih’s Chief of Chief of Policy and Programs. “And perhaps most meaningfully, she mentors child marriage survivor advocates, offering practical and strategic assistance so they can lead the charge in their home states.”

Survivor advocate Donna Pollard shared:

“From the beginning of our conversations, Jeanne has always been victim/survivor centric in her approach to influencing legislation and bringing awareness to the issue of child marriage.

She effectively and eloquently communicates the critical need to both address the atrocious traps underage marriage creates and ensures her message maintains compassion and hope for current and potential victims.”

Jeanne has also developed a number of tools that demonstrate the depth and breadth of her knowledge on child marriage and the state laws that allow it to happen, including Tahirih’s recently-released report, Falling Through the Cracks: How Laws Allow Child Marriage to Happen in Today’s America. Her rich history of service at Tahirih and her commitment to ending forced and child marriage in America are an inspiration to us all.

One awardee from each Excellence in Advocacy Category will be announced at the Professional Women in Advocacy’s Excellence in Advocacy Reception on November 6, 2017 in Washington, DC.

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