Doreen Uloma Nwoke is a writer, activist, critic, entrepreneur and feminist, known by the handle @okemzuruoke on twitter. She used her social media platforms to passionately discuss gender issues while also projecting other social and political sensibilities.
An alumna of Nnamdi Azikiwe University with a Bachelor’s degree in English Language and Literature, Doreen has featured on CNN Africa and currently works with Genevieve Magazine as a feature writer.
We had a chat with the lovely Doreen, and here is what she had to say about consent.
What does consent mean to you
I think consent is a simple, plain concept. It simply means abiding by sexual terms. There are no blurred lines.
Who would you say is responsible for consent education, parents, schools, activists?
I believe it is a collective responsibility but most importantly, parents owe their children a special debt in teaching consent, and that is by their actions as well well as their words.
In what ways can we learn to be more clear about our own sexual boundaries and make the giving of our consent more transparent?
First, we need to work to erase the moral shame associated with sex in order to make people freer and open about their feelings, especially for women. Sex is explicit. And I believe that the communication and boundaries surrounding it should be explicit too. I always tell people that adults are grown humans who know what they want and it also applies in sexual matters. For me, having sex with someone who doesn’t know what they want translates to having sex with someone who is immature. But then, like I said, sex is an explicit act; there are no blurred lines for something as explicit as sex.
Why is early consent and sex education important and what is the ideal age to begin teaching young children about consent
Teaching consent doesn’t always start with sex; start with everything else – food, speech, games, name it. Teach children to always ask for permission, to handle rejection in all areas properly, to use their emotional intelligence, to be respectful of demands and commands, to not be entitled. It is gradual. Then you can move to sex, kickstart from there and teach them in bits what consent means in sexual terms. I’d say, the ideal age to teach children generic consent is from birth. Then, specifically, sexual consent can be taught from 14.
If you had a friend with a problematic view about consent, what steps would you take to educate this person and what would you define as Consent 101?
It all depends on if the person is teachable or willing to learn. Most times, they’re men and I usually illustrate consent by exemplifying through male relations and boundaries since it seems they only understand consent when a man is the topic. Or I use police brutality; that one always hits home. But I tell you, some people do not give a care about this topic and definitely I owe them no education; all I owe them is a cutting off.
Consent 101? – Yes means yes and no means no. Simple. They’ll tell you that women love playing hard to get and I say that anybody who plays that game should be seen as an indecisive child who doesn’t know what they want. And why would anyone want to have sex with children?
Sexual Assault Resources
The newspapers have rape in bold headlines everyday. What do you think people and bodies can do better, to reduce the numbers drastically?
Teach consent. Make tougher laws against rape. Establish gender equality politically, socially and economically. When we all see ourselves as equals, there’ll be less need to dominate anyone.
How would you rate government’s reaction to victims of sexual assault in Nigeria?
Disappointed, but not surprised. A lot of people over here see rape as a punishment for irresponsibility and our government is simply a reflection of our collective attitudes as a people. How would I rate them? Zero stars. Definitely.
Sexual predation is a recurrence in this part of the world. What appropriate punishment do you think should be meted out to erring citizens? How do you think it can also be discouraged today?
If Nigeria can criminalize genuine sexual relations among homosexual people and set the punishment by up to 14 years, I see no reason why rape, as horrible and traumatizing as it is, should bear little consequences. This is actually not a justice problem; it all starts with our heavily stained moral fabric as a nation. Apparently, homosexuality deserves to be frowned at but not rape even though one is consensual and the other is not. Religion plays a huge part in this too. The religions we practice are just as misogynistic as we are and because of the authoritative undertone it has, it is difficult to reorient people about these things.
Set a remarkable precedent. In the entire history of Nigeria, only a limited number of people have been convicted of rape but we produce numbers of rapists in millions.
What exactly does that say? That we are not serious.
How well would you rate the level of public enlightenment currently and what can be done further, to make it better?
One thing I hate about our public enlightenment is that it is mostly elitist and it hardly covers the grassroots. It is easier to save a child than an adult but we seem to be more focused on reorienting adults than in teaching children. We can do both concurrently while focusing on the grassroots. Then make it less elitist. Gender issues lose great meaning and value when they become elitist conversations for intellectual supremacy. Also, what are the legal provisions made? Do we teach consent in schools? Will we be allowed to do so? Are the legislators interested in making these direly needed tough laws? Lots of grey areas here.
What is the most surprising encounter you’ve had when it comes to activism in recent times?
One afternoon, I got a message from someone at the Deputy British High Commission inviting me to be a panelist at an event (in partnership with CNN) bordering on womanhood in Africa. When I saw the names of the fellow panelists, I was consumed by intimidation. It was hard to believe that my “twitter feminism” was being observed on the international scene.
At the CNN Africa discussion for International Women’s Day, you had mentioned how important it was to amplify your voice. What ways do you think we can amplify the message of consent especially amongst younger people?
Social media. Books. Movies. Music. Advertisements. Change the narrative and shape the future. Social media is a very effective tool in this regard as it has quite become the bedrock of communication and education among younger people. It’s never easy to undo and unteach these things. But then with baby steps, we’ll be able to again adult growth.
What would you say is the future of social activism?
Sometimes I see a bright future and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I am hopeful and sometimes I’m not. But I’m glad that people now have avenues to talk and express themselves and that people are listening. Though, one sure thing is that we have a longer way to go than we think.
How do you know your campaigns, and actions have an impact? And what is the go to when it does.
I read the comments on my social media and I am glad that people are listening and following these conversations. I always feel proud to bring new angles and perspectives to arguments that have been culturally bound to be rigid for years. Sometimes the topics could be controversial, and I have absolutely no problems with that. I just feel contented that my messages push people to think. Every retweet, like and comment count. My go to? I just sip a cup of tea and draft more messages.
In summary, I get inspired to do more and be more.