“When I was five, I was sent to live with my aunt. She had been struggling to have a baby, so my parents sent me as a blessing. While I was living there, I was subjected to physical and psychological abuse at the hands of my aunt. I thought the insults and beatings were normal. I thought it was part of my culture and my aunt was trying to make me a better person.
“I never realised her behaviour was abusive. That’s one of the problems with violence - you don’t always know when you’re being violated. My aunt used to send me to hawk [sell goods] on the street. It started to affect my education as I had to go and sell things at 6am. If the market was good, I went to night school. If it was bad, I didn’t go to school at all. Sometimes I would be beaten and starved if I didn’t sell enough.
“Hawking wasn’t safe. There were risks and I was even sexually abused at one point. I was so young I didn’t know how to defend myself.
“After 11 years, I returned home to my parents. Although I tried to tell them what had happened, they didn’t believe me. Some years later my aunt came to live with us. She had just lost her husband. My parents finally listened to what I had to say when they saw the way in which she treated my brothers and sisters.
“It was the Girl Guides that gave me the power to speak out, to confront and challenge what had happened to me.
“I became a Girl Guide when I was 10. It provided friendship and a safe space. In fact, when I attended a training session on Voices Against Violence, a curriculum developed by the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts and UN Women, I found the courage to speak out about what had happened to me as a child. This was the moment where something inside changed. I thought, “Wow, this happened to me.”
“I told myself I needed to share what I’d been through so other people could start speaking out too. It was my story then, but it’s no longer who I am. I am better off and I am no longer the person I used to be. I’ve used that experience to improve myself and that’s the encouragement I give to other girls when I run Voices Against Violence sessions. WAGGGS gave me a voice and the ability to express my own opinion, and I want others to do the same.
“In Nigeria, violence against women is a big issue, which involves female genital mutilation and teenage pregnancy. Parents discipline their children through violence, but it’s not seen as abuse. My friends and I have encountered many of these issues. Girls have told me how they’ve been raped, many are still afraid to speak out about it. Our Girl Guide group is a safe space for girls to speak out about what’s happened. We can then refer these cases to the police.
“We’ve encouraged girls to speak out in other ways too. In Nigeria, I’ve been working with 10 Girl Guide trainers who attended the Activate event. Together with our association’s project department we will be rolling out our Voices Against Violence curriculum across the country. We’ve worked with Girl Guide state officials whom we have trained, explaining why this programme is necessary. We’re also speaking out in communities where violence and discrimination is rife. We’ve spoken to the Ministry of Gender Affairs, and we’ve addressed village leaders and chiefs to help us implement our project at a grassroots level.
“We’ve spoken out via the media too and it’s had a lot of impact. Everyone has a radio or a television, so it is an opportunity to reach a wide range of people.
“Speaking out really can make a difference! When we launched our Voices Against Violence curriculum, 658 girls and boys, along with 100 teachers and adult leaders from 45 schools, attended the event. Girls came up to us and told us how they’d been violated, while boys pledged to change their behaviour.
“It showed the power of Girl Guides and reminded me that when girls are given a safe space to speak out, it can change lives. I know, because I’ve lived through violence. It has made me who I am and it has given me the confidence to speak out for myself and on behalf of thousands of girls around the world. For that, I will always be grateful.”