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How To Cultivate A Culture of Consent in Nigeria

1 in 4 females and 1 in 10 males experience sexual violence in childhood with about 70% of the girls reporting more than one incident of sexual violence.

Sexual assault and violence is all too common in Nigeria. In fact, the 2014 national survey on Violence Against Children in Nigeria confirmed that 1 in 4 females and 1 in 10 males experience sexual violence in childhood, with about 70% of the girls reporting more than one incident of sexual violence. These numbers are staggering, scary, and discouraging but before you let it overwhelm you, remember that at the core of sexual violence and abuse is the lack of and disrespect of a person's right to consent. To replace Nigeria’s rape culture, we must build a culture of consent in its place.The good news is that you don’t need the government to do that for you, you can do it by educating yourself and consequently applying what you have learned.

What is Consent?

Consent is when a person voluntarily, freely, and enthusiastically agrees to do something (in this instance, a sexual activity) with another person. Consent is about communication and respect. It is about confirming through conversations, and mindfulness a person’s willingness to participate in an activity and consequently respecting their wishes, whatever it may be.

What is Consent Culture?

Consent culture is used to describe any culture or community where major social behaviors, beliefs, norms, attitudes, and practices, promote and encourage valuing and respecting people's personal and emotional boundaries. Consent Culture isn't only about sex, it applies to all our interactions with others. Consent culture normalizes the action of asking for and unconditionally respecting consent.

Basic Rules of Consent

  • Consent is an enthusiastic yes or any other 'affirmative' action or statement

  • A minor cannot consent. According to Section 31 (3) (a) of the Child's Rights Act 2003, the legal age of consent in Nigeria is 18 years

  • No means No!

  • The absence of ‘no’ is not the same as a ‘yes'. Always confirm!

  • Consent can be withdrawn at any time.

  • If a person only 'consents' because they are scared that saying no could cause them some form of harm, that is not consent.

  • An unconscious or intoxicated (high) person cannot consent.

  • If a person is manipulated or guilted into saying yes after continuously saying no,that is not consent.

  • Permitting one act does not automatically permit the other. E.g. agreeing to a kiss does not mean I have agreed to sex. You should get a person’s consent when the type or degree of sexual activity changes.

  • Past consent does not cover future activities. E.g. A person who slept with you last week can decide that he doesn’t want to this week.

How to Create a Culture of Consent

  • Understand that consent isn’t just about sex. It’s about respect of another’s personal boundaries. You must respect it even when you don’t understand it.

  • Understand that seeking consent is normal and natural. It is not just for foreigners or Nigerians in diaspora. It’s for everybody.

  • Always adhere to the rules of consent, no matter the situation or circumstance.

  • Start teaching your children about consent from a very tender age; teach boys and girls to respect their bodies and each other. E.g. Never force your child to hug or kiss any one (you and your relatives included), teach them to ask permission before hugging or holding each other.

  • Kill, shut down, shoot, or hang victim blaming and shaming, just don’t let it near you or anyone around you. A victim of sexual violence has no fault in the crime perpetrated against him or her.

  • Normalize the topic of sex and consent with your children, friends, and partners: The Nigerian culture shies away from the healthy discussion of sex. Children are taught about sex only in reference to purity, or avoiding rape and pregnancy. This leaves kids to learn about sex from pornography and other media which not only depict sex in unrealistic ways but also promote rape culture. This unwillingness to discuss sex healthily also encourages a culture of silence, forcing people who have experienced sexual violence or are in relationships that 'don't feel right’ to keep to themselves, for the fear of being shamed, blamed, or mocked. Parents need to examine their own discomfort, baggage, and shame around sex, so that they don’t pass it on to their children.

  • Looking out for one another: An honest discussion about rape and sexual abuse is only just beginning in Nigeria. So we need you, we need your voice, and your willingness to be uncomfortable. Don’t become complicit to rape and abuse by ‘looking the other way.’ Don’t be afraid to step in or speak up if you see someone trying to initiate a sexual activity with someone who cannot consent. Don’t be afraid to start up conversations on consent in your friendship circles. Don’t be afraid to ask for help too.

Truth is, learning and teaching consent culture is not easy in a country like Nigeria where there are so many taboos. It is also really difficult to unlearn harmful traditions and cultures which have been ingrained in many of us since birth. However, if we are willing to make Nigeria a better and safer country, if we are interested in having respectful and more fulfilling relationships, we can gradually change the conversation and attitudes by applying this knowledge to our lives.

Written by Pearl Azu-Okeke


Creative Storyteller

Founder, Consent Haven