The average cost of a U.S. wedding is about $29,000, according to Zola — a $1,000 increase from the average rate in 2022.
While jubilant couples pour their funds into special seating charts, documentary-style wedding videos, or any number of celebratory amenities, some have begun to reckon with a deeper truth.
While they have the privilege to make endless exciting decisions about their special day, millions of young girls across the world don’t even have a say in whether they are married.
Child marriage — any marriage or informal union where one person is under the age of 18 — is a pervasive and concerning issue. These unions most significantly impact girls and are not rooted in love or choice.
According to UNICEF, 720 million women alive today were married as children. For every girl who graduates high school in America, six girls under the age of 18 are married around the world.
This impacts nearly every facet of life for young women: from their education and careers, to their health, personal safety, and legal rights.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals call for global action to end child marriage by 2030, and it’s going to take the whole wedding industry to make it happen.
VOW for Girls is a nonprofit that works with couples, vendors, and industry professionals to help transform standard wedding celebrations into an opportunity to improve the lives of girls whose futures are at risk.
“Love and choice should be for everyone, regardless of where you’re born or what circumstance you’re in,” VOW CEO Clay Dunn told Good Good Good.
“Less than a ‘perfect day,’ I'm hearing that couples are looking for ways to add even more meaning to their events, as they make their own choices that showcase their individuality and their values,” Dunn said. “One way to do that and create lasting impact beyond the ‘big day’ is to align your celebration with a good cause like VOW for Girls.”
VOW has a number of initiatives to raise funds to support girls in need: making it easy for couples to accept donations to the organization in lieu of gifts or partnering with industry professionals and bridal brands to create veils, rings, and other accessories that fund the work to end child marriage.
So far, more than 8,000 couples have aligned with the VOW mission by asking for donations instead of gifts or making a donation in their guests’ honor instead of providing favors. VOW also works with over 30 major wedding brands, like Zola, Minted, The Knot, Birdy Grey, Justin Alexander Bridal, and more.
High-profile weddings have also brought attention to this work. Last year, when Sheryl Sandberg and Tom Bernthal tied the knot, they donated $1 million to VOW on their big day.
But it’s not just celebrity weddings that make a difference.
Dunn shared the story of a couple — Ruma and Matthew — who originally had a courthouse wedding over a decade ago. In a special vow renewal destination wedding in Jaipur, India, the couple finally hosted their dream wedding, and instead of asking for gifts, raised more than $14,000 for VOW, with the help of their friends and family.
This impact on the wedding industry allows the organization to directly fund grassroots organizations in areas in Africa, Asia, and Latin America — where child marriage rates are the highest globally.
“VOW for Girls was launched to fill a major funding gap in the timely global push to end child marriage: supporting efforts at the local level by funding proven [and] effective yet overlooked grassroots organizations that are directly engaging in the lives of young girls,” Dunn said. “We think these local leaders are in the best position to know what girls in their communities need.”
VOW has provided over $1.6 million in grants to over 175 community-based organizations, with programs that support girls’ completed education, build collective knowledge of rights and autonomy, and give young girls the tools and resources they need to advocate for themselves.
This money goes a long way. For instance, according to Dunn, VOW has calculated that about $181 USD can cover a girls’ school costs for an entire year.
(This number is from 2022 and calculated from representative costs in the Vow For Girls grantee pool in Africa, Latin America, and India.)
Considering this data, Ruma and Matthew’s wedding alone could pay for an entire year of schooling for more than 75 girls.
“That’s an incredible impact that lasts long after the celebration,” Dunn said.
Along with moving away from consumption and toward community service, Dunn says he’s seeing a huge global shift in the conversation around child marriage.
“The brave local leaders we fund are building consensus in their communities that girls’ lives are worth as much as boys’ lives — that girls are worthy of making their own decisions.”