My body belongs to me | ActionAid UK

My body belongs to me

Christie Ochu

Activist, Activista Nigeria

My name is Christie and I am one of the four women featured in ActionAid’s My Body Is Mine campaign. The campaign helps women and girls reclaim their bodies, speak out against any form of violence and proudly say My Body Is Mine without fear of retribution.

I am a 21-year-old activist from Nigeria and would like to share my #MyBodyIsMine story with you.

I refuse to be intimidated because #MyBodyIsMine.
I refuse to be intimidated because #MyBodyIsMine

When I had the opportunity to be part of ActionAid’s My Body Is Mine campaign, I jumped at the chance. It’s a concept that means a lot to me – and here’s why.

Growing up in Kogi, a state in central Nigeria, I experienced a lot of harassment from men. My mum had a shop and I’d help out when I got home from school, which meant that I met lots of different people every day.

From a young age, men who came to my mum’s shop would say nasty things that a young girl shouldn’t have to hear. There was nothing I could do though; I had to be respectful as they were mostly older than me.

Me (second from top right) and my family.

One fateful day

One day, a guy came to buy things from the shop and, as he couldn’t carry it all home, he asked for my help. My mum wasn’t there, but I agreed to give him a hand as he was a regular customer.

However, when I got to his house, he didn’t let me leave. He started pulling me close and trying to raise my skirt.

I wasn’t sure what was about to happen, but I got really scared. I don’t know where the strength came from, but I pushed him away and ran home as fast as I could, shaking.

I cursed the fact that I was born a girl.”

I was traumatised from the experience and cursed the fact that I was born a girl. I had heard stories about girls being raped, but I never thought any guy I knew was capable of doing that.

A few days later, I was on my way home when I saw the same guy again. My first thought was to run, but he grabbed my hand before I could escape.

I struggled and he told me that I was being silly; he said there was no use being so uptight because eventually everything I had would belong to a man and it could be him.

My Body Is Mine in action

That statement got me so angry that I managed to push him to the ground. I screamed in anger:

My body belongs to me and not anyone else!”

He was shocked at the aggression in my voice and just remained on the ground, then I turned to leave.

While I was walking home it dawned on me that my body really is mine – and no one can ever force me to do what I don’t want to do.

Becoming an activista

A few years later I met a friend who was a member of Activista Nigeria, an ActionAid-supported group of young people who work to end violence and harassment, and fight for gender equality.

Me (first from top right) and other Activista Kogi members and at a peace camp organised by ActionAid Nigeria calling to end violent extremism.

I was interested in the work the group was doing to fight sexual harassment on university campuses – something I had experienced several times when I was walking home from classes at night.

I decided to join the activista network. The first campaign I took part in was the Safe Cities for Women campaign. We went to the school management and security units and demanded streetlights in the school, especially on the paths that led to the girls’ hostels.

Our streetlight campaign was successful… the number of incidents of sexual harassment went down drastically.”

We were successful – the school created streetlights on the path and mounted a security post near the girls’ hostels. Security would also go around school for two to three hours in the evenings, to ensure women’s safety.

The number of incidents of sexual harassment went down drastically. I felt so fulfilled, like I made a great impact and saved a lot of women from going through what I went through.

Activista Kogi members during the Vote Not Fight campaign in Nigeria.

Life’s hard for girls in my community

Girls in my community face a lot of sexual harassment and they’re often afraid to speak out about it. They worry about what the person involved will do to them or that they will be blamed.

Even when girls do speak up, often people don’t believe them and think they are lying.

When I was harassed the first time, I was too scared to tell anyone, even though I felt so traumatised. When it happened a second time, I stood up for myself; I fought for myself, I spoke to him and challenged him.

But I know not everyone is able to do that. This is wrong – everyone should be able to speak out and say My Body Is Mine.

Me (first from bottom) and other Activista Nigeria members during an endurance walk to Tarkwa Bay in Lagos, Nigeria.

Young girls are our future

In Nigeria and the rest of the world, we need to encourage girls to start campaigning for their rights from a very young age – otherwise they grow use to staying silent.

If they know about their rights early on, they will have a better chance of going further in the future.

My advice to young girls on Day of the Girl is:

Learn to speak up and take a stand – and don’t let anyone intimidate you and bring you down.”

Check out ActionAid’s My Body Is Mine campaign and stories of the other three inspirational women.

ActionAid, Chrisite Ochu