Dear Ban Ki-moon… Let Liberian girls flourish

Girls in Liberia have high ambitions. The Girl Declaration can make them a reality

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 UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, explaining the challenges that girls in the developing world face.

Here, Havi Murungi and Sarah Waithera from market research company Havis, write about what girls in Liberia want the world to hear…

Dear Ban Ki-moon,

We've got a story to tell you about what the world should look like post-2015, when the current Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will be renewed.

It's not a story about us, or what we think should happen. It's a story about girls in Liberia and what you need to do to empower them to drive global development forward.

How do we know this story?

Because we spoke to dozens of Liberian girls recently as part of the consultations the Girl Effect and its partners are doing with girls living in poverty.

We listened to all of their stories. Will you?

Culture of fear

We were part of the team that visited two areas of Liberia - the capital, Monrovia, and a rural community in Montserrado County - to talk with girls about the challenges they face and their hopes for the future.

The girls told us that crime and gender-based violence have created a culture of fear. Some of them said they wish "men would stop raping children" or "playing with children in the bathroom".

Understandably, they want to live in a much safer, healthier, crime-free and developed environment. They want more opportunities for education, employment and personal and family advancement. But at the moment girls face a number of challenges that make achieving those things very difficult.

Exceptional interventions

Low incomes mean many girls are often coerced into sex for money. In some communities, cultural practices and beliefs are affecting girls' enrolment and retention in formal education.

Some parents prefer girls to work on the farm while boys attend school. Girls are also pressurised into early marriage which, coupled with negative perceptions of birth control, creates high levels of teenage pregnancy.

Child labour is also prevalent, with many parents having no choice but to send their daughters to sell goods to earn more income for the family.

If you extrapolate the conditions of the girls we met nationally, Africa-wide, and globally, then the extent of deprivation and abuse is phenomenal - so the interventions will have to be equally exceptional.

Ambition and leadership

You can help unleash the exceptional potential of girls that we saw in Liberia.

There was certainly no lack of ambition from the girls we spoke to. They want to become professionals in diverse areas such as law, medicine, education and journalism. They recognise that to achieve these dreams they need more access to education so they can take leadership roles in their communities.

As secretary-general of the UN, you have the power to make this happen. You must listen to the stories from these consultations and invest more money to enable girls to flourish and reach their potential.

The consultations will culminate in the Girl Declaration. When it's presented to you at the UN on International Day of the Girl in October, you must act on it.

Yours sincerely,

Havi and Sarah

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