Sonali: I won’t let my attack define me because My Body Is Mine
When Sonali was 18 days old, a man broke into her home and threw acid over her and her parents while they were sleeping. Sonali was hospitalised in Dhaka with life-changing injuries and the perpetrator – who was a cousin – was never brought to justice.
Sonali’s early life was difficult
She didn’t leave her house for three years after the acid attack because members of her community did not accept her scarring. When it was time for her to attend school, other students tried to prevent Sonali from joining. But with the help of ActionAid Bangladesh and a local partner, eventually the students and teachers understood that what happened to Sonali was not her fault.
She has regained her confidence and reclaimed her body
Now Sonali is 14 and is accepted by her community. She is a member of the ActionAid Acid Attack Survivors’ Network and has attended meetings with local governments, as well as other survivors. In 2017, Sonali took part in the Survivors’ Runway, a fashion show in Dhaka and London celebrating the inner beauty and strength of eight acid attack survivors. Sonali’s favourite subject is sociology and when she is older she would like to work in social welfare.
To me, My Body Is Mine means that it’s my right to do what I want and to think what I want.”
Christie: I refuse to be intimidated because My Body Is Mine
When Christie was a teenager, she would help her mum out at the family’s shop. There, she was exposed to regular harassment from male strangers.
Christie was harassed by a stranger
One day, a man asked Christie to help him carry some of the items he purchased from the shop back to his house. He was a regular customer and Christie agreed to give him a hand.
However, when they arrived at his house, he turned aggressive and grabbed Christie, lifting up her skirt. Christie managed to push him away and ran home shaking. “I was traumatised from the experience,” she says. “I cursed the fact that I was born a girl.”
She stood up to violence and reclaimed her body
A few days later, Christie encountered the same man again. He grabbed her hand and pulled her towards him. When she struggled to get free, he told her that there was no use her being so uptight because everything she had “belonged to a man and it could be him”. In anger, Christie managed to push him away. “I screamed ‘My body belongs to me and not anyone else!’” she says.
Christie now campaigns to end violence against women and girls
When Christie heard about Activista Nigeria, an ActionAid-supported group of young people who work to end violence and harassment and fight for gender equality, she decided to sign up.
Now 21, Christie has successfully campaigned for streetlights to be installed at her university campus, to make girls feel safer when walking home at night. She also educates schoolgirls about sexual harassment and teaches them about their rights.
My Body Is Mine means that my body belongs to me and not anyone else”
Gina: I changed the law because My Body Is Mine
In 2017, Gina Martin was standing in a crowd at a London music festival when a male stranger put his hands between her legs and took a photograph up her skirt.
Gina went to the police, but they couldn’t do anything
She reported the incident to the police but was told that because the picture wasn’t graphic, there was nothing they could do.
The officers then closed the case, reassuring her that the photo had been deleted. “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” she told the BBC1. “This wasn’t good enough.”
She didn’t give up and started a petition
Gina started an online petition to get her case reopened and began researching ways she could prosecute. The petition, which has since received 111,000 signatures, allowed Gina and her lawyer Ryan Whelan to enter and lobby the government for 18 months. This resulted in a Private Members’ Bill and, later, a Government Bill.
Upskirting is now a criminal offence
After much parliamentary debate, upskirting was officially made a criminal offence under the Voyeurism Act in February 2019, with perpetrators facing up to two years in prison.
“Now that the bill has become law, it is living proof that one normal person can make a difference – and that’s pretty exciting,” Gina wrote in a piece for Stylist2.
Gina is continuing to work as an activist and writer. In June she published ‘Be The Change: A Toolkit for the Activist in You.’
My Body Is Mine means that I should [make all the] decision over my own body, because if I can’t… then what can I make decisions over?”
- 1. BBC (2017), ‘Upskirting — how one victim is fighting back’: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-40861875https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-40861875 ↩
- 2. Pip Cook, Stylist (2017), ‘Upskirting is now officially a criminal offence in the UK’: https://www.stylist.co.uk/life/upskirting-now-officially-illegal-in-the-uk-gina-martin/251250 ↩
Sarmin: I escaped child marriage because My Body Is Mine
Sarmin, from southern Bangladesh, took part in training provided by ActionAid Bangladesh’s youth forum in Dhaka, the capital, in 2016. There, she learned about feminist leadership and the dangers of child marriage.
Sarmin was being forced to marry young
When Sarmin returned to her village, she told her community and parents about what she had learned. But her father wasn’t happy about her thoughts on child marriage. He decided to arrange a marriage for Sarmin, who was 16 at the time.
Sarmin’s father locked her in the family home, but her friends and teachers soon came to her rescue. They spoke to Sarmin’s parents and convinced them to cancel the marriage and let her continue her education.
She escaped child marriage and now campaigns against it
Now Sarmin campaigns against child marriage – educating other students about the dangers of marrying young and encouraging them to keep studying. She helps them reclaim ownership of their bodies, speak out and say My Body Is Mine. When she is older she hopes to hold a government job.
My Body is Mine means to me that I will fulfil my own dreams before my parents’ dreams.”
Why did we launch the My Body Is Mine campaign?
We launched the campaign on International Women’s Day 2018, encouraging everyone to post and share #MyBodyIsMine images on social media. To mark World Menstrual Hygiene Day 2019, we collaborated with five leading female artists to create a collection of limited-edition #MyBodyIsMine t-shirts.
Celebrities including Dame Emma Thompson, Paloma Faith and new 007 agent Lashana Lynch have supported our campaign, demonstrating their support for women and girls worldwide.
This October (2019) we are raising public awareness about our My Body Is Mine campaign and violence against women and girls. We are doing this by sharing the stories of four brave and inspiring women: Sonali, Christie, Gina and Sarmin. All women and girls have the right to control their own bodies. By supporting #MyBodyIsMine, we can stand with survivors and shine a spotlight on violence against women and girls.
How is ActionAid ending violence against women and girls?
One in three women worldwide will experience physical violence or sexual abuse in her lifetime, most likely at the hands of someone she knows. But this needs to change. By supporting ActionAid’s campaign, you can take ownership of your body, side with survivors and shine a spotlight on violence against women and girls.
Across the world, ActionAid supports women to say My Body Is Mine by reducing violence within communities and ensuring women’s voices are heard. Our local staff on the ground ensure that survivors receive the emotional and medical support they need, and are able to access justice.
ActionAid helps women empower themselves worldwide by ending violence, fighting for women’s economic opportunities and promoting their leadership in humanitarian crises.