Dear Ban Ki-moon... Why do girls have to live in fear?

An open letter to the UN secretary-general on behalf of girls in Pakistan

The Girl Declaration will give hundreds of girls in poverty the opportunity to talk about their hopes and dreams. We've asked organisations involved in the consultations to write open letters to the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, explaining the challenges that girls in the developing world face.

Here, Iffat Jamil from Plan writes about Pakistani girls' hopes for the future…

Dear Ban Ki-moon,

Whether they live in the heart of the city or in a countryside community, Pakistani girls share something in common: they dream of a better life.

As part of our consultations for the Girl Declaration, we spoke to girls from both urban and rural areas, ranging in age from 13 to 19. They all craved greater opportunities and - crucially - safe environments in which to harness those opportunities and reach their potential.

Of course, our country is a complex one and girls in different areas face a distinct set of challenges.

Our urban girls, aged 16-19, typically live in congested, poorly ventilated slum housing, often with up to 10 people crammed into one room.

"During the monsoon, the stream floods our houses and they're filled with garbage, sewage and disease," said one girl living in Islamabad.

Yet these poor conditions come at a relatively high price. Many of the girls we spoke to had dropped out of school to look after siblings while their parents worked to cover the living costs.

Some had been forced into an early marriage. Those unsupported by parents or a husband often work in potentially harmful occupations where they face daily harassment, something that leaves them frightened and confused.

As one girl put it: "Why do boys sexually and psychologically abuse girls? Why do they forget about their own sisters and mothers?"

High aspirations

These girls dream of clean and comfortable homes, the chance to finish their education uninterrupted and forge careers - and to go about their daily lives without fear.

The girls we spoke to from rural areas - aged 13 to 16 and all in school or non-formal education programmes - complain of limited mobility; of often being stuck in the home, with their daily lives dictated by strict cultural traditions that confine girls to the domestic sphere.

"Parents hurry girls' marriage because they think girls are just there to go to another house - boys are the assets, not girls," said one girl.

The girls who are in school worry about the quality of their education and many have to make dangerous and costly journeys just to get there.

These girls need access to facilities - schools with libraries, laboratories and sports equipment. They also need teachers who discipline them with words rather than a stick.

Desire to learn

Of course, some of the girls we spoke to manage to make their dreams a reality, such as the 16-year-old we met who defied her addict father to participate in a distance learning programme, instead of dropping out of school. She is now helping her father make changes to his life.

But many other girls in Pakistan are not reaching their potential. As secretary general of the UN, you are in a unique position to change this.   

When you are presented with the product of these consultations - the Girl Declaration - you must remember these girls' stories and their dreams. And make them become a reality.

Yours sincerely,

Iffat  

The Girl Declaration gives girls in Pakistan - along with hundreds of girls living in poverty - the chance to reach their potential

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