Last evening my two-year-old daughter Diya, refused to kiss and hug a relative visiting our home. She politely said hello, shook their hands and then walked away. In Indian culture, this is disrespectful, disobedient and rude.
But I am proud of her. I respect her decision and did not force her to hug. I am teaching her consent culture.
What is Consent Culture?
We create consent culture when we value the feelings of people we are interacting with either casually or professionally. It’s about respecting personal and emotional boundaries every time.
It is a myth that consent is only important when it comes to sex. Consent should be voluntary, enthusiastic, sober, verbal, non-coerced, continuous and honest.
In a sexual context lack of consent is RAPE. Only when consent has been vocalized, should a physical relationship move to the next level. It’s about mutual satisfaction and not just focusing on yourself.
In fact when in a relationship, it’s about never assuming a ‘YES’ and always confirming.
When we talk about the root causes of gender-based violence, more often than not, we discuss patriarchy as being the number one reason.
Wherever there is lack of gender equality and women are considered second-class citizens compared to men, violence is prevalent. And this messaging starts in our homes, in our schools from a very young age.
Boys and girls not respecting each other starts when we as a society ignore the importance of consent culture.
Modeling the Concept of Consent for Our Kids
In our daily life, there are plenty of non-sex related things we can do to model the concept of consent to our children early on in their lives. For example, when a relative wants a hug & your child doesn’t want to, it’s okay for you to teach them to politely decline.
Before posting your child’s picture or the things they say on Facebook, do you ask them if it’s okay? And if they say ‘No’, are you okay with it? Do you force your children to eat things they don’t want to or take them to parties they don’t want to go to?
Our child’s inputs matter. Let’s reinforce it by asking for their input in all kinds of everyday decisions. Like adults, children too are the boss of their own bodies.
Teaching boys and girls early on to respect their bodies and each other goes a long way in building consent culture and eventually addressing gender-based violence.
Let’s face it, sex talks can be awkward. Most parents don’t know how to have the ‘sex talk’ with their children. And most kids want to ignore it.
According to blogger Namrata Sadhvani “Societal taboos, fear in approaching the “birds and bees” talk with children, denial about kids ages” are all the reasons Indian parents avoid having the sex talk.
But how can we talk about consent, if we don’t talk about sex?
It starts with comprehensive sex education at home and school. Educational institutions and media can play a pivotal role in engaging parents and to promote a culture of free talk. Starting early is very helpful.
In Norway sex-ed starts very young. Explaining to kids what kind of touching is inappropriate, and using humor to approach the topic with children might be helpful.
As parents we must see ourselves as the facilitator to appropriate amounts of information. And if you still find it hard, examine your own shame-baggage about sex & try to get rid of it before passing it on to your children.
I Wish My Parents Had Taught Me This About Consent
“I wish someone would have told me it’s not my responsibility to please others at my own expense”, says Angie Aker (a founding mind behind Upworthy)
“I was told, do something which will trouble a girl n that will be your worst day. I got all my #cues”, says Anand Mangnale (Activist, India)
“You don't need others approval to feel better about yourself!”, says Kavita Chintapalli (#sayftychat host, Sayfty)
“That sex is a great thing and as much about my pleasure as the guys”, says Subuhi Safvi, (Feminist, India)
“It's OK to say "NO" if you are uncomfortable, unhappy or unsettled in any situation. Trust your gut”, says Namrata Sadhvani (Blogger, India)
“Saying no is as acceptable as saying yes! Respect your decision & don't second guess it because you're a small adult”, says Monica Jasusa (Twitter User, India)
“I shouldn't be always seeking consent from others for things that I am convinced about”, says Meetu Khanduja (India)
How Will Dating Life Change When Consent Culture Becomes the Norm?
Dating life will become healthier and more regular when consent culture becomes the norm. When girls decline a date, people won’t think it’s okay to keep asking because of how pop culture portrays the nice-guy dynamic. A ‘No’ will be a NO and not thought of as ‘trying hard to get’.
In fact, we will finally be able to put an end to the ‘try harder’ mentality which only leads to continued harassment, and in many cases stalking!
Boys will stop taking advantage of a drunk, passed out girl and just let her sleep. Girls will learn earlier how fulfilling sex can be when it doesn’t leave them reeling with pain, doubt and shame. They will hook up without being slut-shamed or feeling unsafe. Young people will find relationships mutually satisfying and joyous.
Hopefully, there won’t be any guilt, rapes or ‘misread in the moment’ Aziz Ansari stories.
Consent Culture Is a Win-Win for All
Men can ask for what makes them feel good without putting pressure on their partners or making them feel guilty. Women will feel more empowered to ask for what makes them feel good and not pressured to do things they don’t want to.
Relationships will be more lasting and stand more life tests. And future generations will be able to accomplish so much more without carrying the baggage and unhealthiness of rape culture.
Young couples might even be able to safely explore what kinds of relationships work for them with less tension than now.
Not just dating, marriages and all other relationships will become more fulfilling and less taxing on everybody.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (#SAAM).
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Centre: “Sexual violence is any type of unwanted sexual contact - including sexual assault and rape. Including words and actions like sexual harassment, catcall, and non-consensual sharing of private images such as “revenge porn.”
According to UN Women, 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives.
In fact, sexual violence affects us all directly or indirectly. Anyone including children teens, adults and seniors can experience sexual violence.
It therefore becomes imperative for us to imagine and implement a world of consent culture.
Caring for others should have no gender. Let’s commit to teaching our young boys empathy just as much as we teach girls.
Yes, learning and teaching consent culture is not easy. There are no manuals and a lot of taboo and shame wrapped up in matters of sex everywhere.
But let’s start by examining our own lives and practicing consent in the smallest ways. It’s OKAY to change one’s mind at ANY POINT in time.
(Shruti Kapoor is an award-winning gender equality activist and founder of Sayfty - an organization to educate and empower the women and girls of India against violence.)
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