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Consent – understanding the difference between yes and no

It’s the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence and the UN theme for 2019 is Orange the World: Generation Equality Stands against Rape! This year, campaigns aroun the world are focusing on asserting the need to put an end to rape culture that is so deeply entrenched in our societies.

A key challenge in prevention and eradication of rape and sexual violence is the issue of consent, which currently lacks understanding. There is a need to understand and contextualise consent and reiterate that only yes means yes. Equally important is that the consent is offered with free will, without being induced by fraud, coercion, violence or threat of violence, and in the person’s full capacity.

For decades, the media has portrayed men and women through strict stereotypes. Traits such as the sexual aggressiveness of the male along with the compliance of the female that are often highlighted in the media have reinforced these gender stereotypes and has led society to believe that some deviant behaviors are acceptable, given their extensive broadcasting and normalization. The irony of this representation is that the very qualities women are encouraged to develop in order to meet cultural ideals of femininity contribute to their victimization.

Contrary to the usual romanticization of harassment and coercion of women, earlier this year, two television drama serials highlighted the importance of consent. The serial “Inkar” (rejection in English) revolves around male characters who are unable to deal with rejection and are struggling to understand the idea of consent. The takeaway from another serial, Cheekh (scream in English), was how the complex interpersonal relationships in upper class families and the attempt from male members to coerce, harass and intimidate female members impacts  to accept things even against their will or consent.

These two TV serials, were aired at the time when the “Me Too” movement, the push for women’s rights and general awareness on the importance of a woman’s right to say NO are being highlighted in all spheres, from home to educational institutions, from work to public spaces. These serials were seen by a large audience and appreciated for the bigger issues they highlighted. While the word consent is often repeated in our relationships and many issues arise in our interactions as one or the other party in the equation wants to have their say; so it is necessary to understand the importance and effect of NO in relationships, including psychological wellbeing of the people involved.

With no legal age of consent in Pakistan, the culture, religion and society expect that people must be married to have a physical relationship. We are seeing a proliferation on internet relationships which make an interesting study of the anonymity of people in a relationship over social media, relationship portals and chat forums.

The UK Safer Inter Net Centre[1], celebrated 5th February 2019 as Safer Internet Day with the global slogan of ‘Together for a better internet; they explored online consent with the theme “Our Internet, Our Choice: Understanding Consent in a Digital World.” This provided a range of educational resources[2] to explore how young people ask for, give and receive consent online. This is an effort worth replicating by involving parents and teachers where children are exposed to the internet unsupervised.

As more and more hand held devices give greater number of people wider access to the internet, online Gaming between people has become popular. Taking the example of GamerGate which aims to keep ethics in video game; however the actions of some members has linked it to misogyny within the gaming community. The platform has been involved in harassment and abuse of women since August 2014, when a harassment campaign targeted several women game developers, as well as a feminist media critic — from doxing to threats of sexual assault — by anti-feminist element; it started more than five years ago, and continues to be a prevalent aspect of the industry. Unfortunately women and minors are frequently subject to unwanted and illegal sexual attention in gaming spaces with a definite tilt toward female gamers receiving NSFW material without their consent.[3]

While the digital age has on the one hand facilitated spaces for women to be heard with movements like #OrangeTheWorld #MeToo #TimesUp #NotOneMore, on the other hand, it also gives harassers greater opportunities to inflict harm on women. To counter this and create awareness among internet users, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women included a ‘16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence’ campaign. According to Dr. Emma A. Jane, a Senior Lecturer in the School of the Arts & Media at the University of New South Wales, Australia, online violence refers to a range of dialogues and acts occuring at the gender, technology and violence nexus, the “Examples of online violence include hate speech,

[1] https://www.saferinternet.org.uk/safer-internet-day/safer-internet-day-2019/understanding-consent-digital-world

[2] https://www.saferinternet.org.uk/safer-internet-day/safer-internet-day-2019/education-packs

[3] https://www.headstuff.org/entertainment/gaming/gaming-in-the-age-of-consent/

sexually violent dialogue, plausible rape and death threats, stalking, large groups attacking individuals, the malicious circulation of targets’ personal details online (‘doxing’), and the uploading of sexually explicit material without the consent of the targeted subject (‘revenge porn’).”[1]

Issues of rape, sexual assault, and consent have been prominent in the public conversation over the past few years. It is very important for us to keep reiterating what these terms mean as only through repeated  conversations that we can move forward with our fight to end gender-based violence.

[1] https://newsroom.unsw.edu.au/news/social-affairs/online-violence-just-destructive-offline-violence



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