Developing a just society based on equity and equal opportunities for all with respect for diversity.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Consent – The Taboo Topic

Were over half way through our placement now and its been a massive learning curve for the UK volunteers, living and working in a completely different culture. Weve come across many shocks and it has taken a lot of getting used to the Ghanaian lifestyle. Although we have settled in we still come across things that surprise us on a daily basis.

Last week some of our team planned and held a refresher training session for peer educators and NTCDs (non-traditional condom distributors) in Gbimsi and Nayorku. I was placed within the training team! After lengthy discussion we decided to refresh the attendees on the following topics: contraception, Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), and sexual consent.

We chose to focus on the topic of consent as weve found this a sensitive subject to discuss with Ghanaians due to different cultural perspectives. We experienced this in office discussions and exercises where we explored misconceptions surrounding sex and consent. But it was a few weeks ago in the office, holding a refresher training session for Savelugu-based peer educators, where we first witnessed the gaping holes in community members knowledge. We thought the topic of consent would be a quick, self-explanatory one, that everyone would understand it to mean no means no every time, but wed been assuming this from a UK perspective. We thought we were covering pretty basic knowledge but we were wrong!

During the consent presentation we got to a slide which aimed to clear up any misconceptions that the peer educators may have held on when and how consent can be given. They stopped us at almost each point to discuss it in further detail. Below are some of the misconceptions the team fought to change during the training:

1.      NO means NO-  Some of the males in the group thought girls say no to sex when actually they mean yes, because in Ghana a girl has to appear shy and virtuous. It is scary to think that even when a girl says no, men may still proceed thinking she means yes.
2.     Some of the attendees believed that wives owed their husbands sex and inferred marriage was a form of consent. The role of marriage within consent was a tough angle to approach, since Ghana is one of the most religious countries in West Africa.

3.      It was hard to try and explain that some men and women do not like sex, as some of the peer educators were not aware of differing sex drives between individuals. 
Our training session

However, despite their reservations at the start, we as a team took our time explaining ourselves, and the peer educators were soon ready to listen and find out more about sexual consent. It revealed to us a very important lesson: you sometimes come across cultural viewpoints which can be very uncomfortable for you to hear. It is important that rather than reacting to these views, you can either accept them as part of a different culture, or calmly and persistently put your own perspective across. That is the point of the project after all, to help educate communities about their sexual health rights, and we cant do that if we negatively judge community members for any opposing views they may have.

From very early on in our placement we, as a team, aimed to incorporate the issue of consent into most of our events; it seemed essential that everyone we met could be educated on the issue. We try to talk about it wherever and whenever we can. When we went to Nayorku to do a sensitisation on teenage pregnancy we threw the topic into the mix when we divided the community into discussion groups. We also created consent leaflets to be handed out at our training sessions, which we hope will be a good resource for attendees to discuss consent further with their peers. The hope is that we can change not only their views, but a wider audience of peoples views on consent.

                                       Safe Choices 'sexual consent' leaflets

I realise that when it comes to changing views there is a long road ahead. And it is important to remember that consent is a worldwide issue; not simply a Ghanaian one. We only need to turn our minds back to USA a few months ago and remember the uproar when Stanford student Brock Turner received a surprisingly soft sentence of only 6 months for raping a fellow student on the basis she was too drunk to say no - we make it clear in our consent sessions that if an individual does not have the capacity to consent to sex than that automatically means NO! And it was only 25 years ago that in England and Wales a husband could not be prosecuted for raping his wife. But the last example, whilst too recent for comfort, shows that change can and does happen. And so through persistence, perseverance and education, we stand a good chance of change in northern Ghana.

Written by: Aimee Healy
Edited by: Sian Johnston

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