In 2019, we started TCW Chat, a series of conversations with various people discussing topics around consent, sexual assault and the intersection of their work and life around these topics. During that time, we had Olutimehin Adegbeye tell us a little about consent in low-income neighbourhoods in Nigeria, Dayo Adedapo told us about toxic masculinity and Jade Bentil told us a little about feminism and the representation of black women in media.
We took a break in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic and this year, we are back, better and more consistent. Every month, we’ll pick someone and talk about these urgent topics in the hope that one way or the order, we are disseminating the message and breaking down complex conversations into simple tidbits.
This month, we have Judicaelle Irakoze who is a recognized organizer specializing in feminist movement building, youth development, immigrant rights and African political affairs. She also helps progressive organizations build and deploy more equitable programs and policies. We had a fantastic time talking to Judicalle Irakoze about consent and her work
What does consent mean to you?
It means autonomy. Consent tells me I have power over my body and my own personhood and if I want to share it with someone I am going to do it willingly. It is a position of my own power and agency towards self and it always will be.
Why is early consent and sex education important and what do you think is the ideal age to begin teaching young children about consent?
It is not a question of age; When you look at the patriarchy conditioning women/girls to navigate their lives within, you realize the sooner we teach children about their agency and respecting each other, then the better. We are usually raised in a rape culture where we, women, are told that our body and life isn’t ours. To dismantle the structure of society today, we must start as early as possible but make the conversation as easy to understand as possible considering the age and maturity
Who would you say is responsible for consent education for kids? Parents, schools, activists?
It is not for one person; There is an African proverb that says it takes a village to raise a kid and indeed it is a community’s work. And as part of different communities, we have to make sure we all raise the kids right from parents, to schools, activists, community groups, and so on
In what ways can we learn to be clear about our own sexual boundaries and make the giving of our consent more transparent?
One of the effective ways is to affirm our own desires and needs and not gaslight ourselves when we know we don’t want to participate in anything. It starts by affirming how we feel, what we feel and always creating spaces for it. Another way is to honour your own boundaries first, to really never overstep yourself or belittle yourself,
How do you approach conversations with friends who have problematic views about consent?
I don’t have such friendships. Why would I have such friends?
Do you think there are grey areas with regards to consent? How do you approach this conversation?
To be honest, what we call grey areas are just normalized rape culture concepts. The simple fact that we call them grey means something is wrong. I always refuse to believe to sustain the conversation that consent can sometimes not be clear because if women’s bodies were respected, granted the full agency and male unaccountability was not a reality, then we wouldn’t be having these conversations about grey areas.
Rape is about power – Judicaelle Irakoze
Rape and Sexual Assault
We keep talking about consent and yet there are high numbers of rape cases daily. What other ways do you think we can approach this?
It’s more than consent. Rape is about power. To address rape means we address the status of women and girls. We abolish male privilege, we tackle the culture of silence. And any other normalization of rape culture should be abolished.
In Africa, the constitutions and government aren’t friendly to victims of sexual harassment and assault. In a perfect world, what would be done right?
In a perfect world, victims are believed and cared for. That means every institution from medical to legal would work for the wellbeing and harm reduction of the survivors. This would also involve imagining and working towards a society where rape isn’t a reality
What do you think is the appropriate consequence for sexual predators?
I don’t know because even with consequences I want to centre survivors. Any consequences that don’t make the survivor’s life easier or reduce the harm they are living with, then it’s ineffective in my opinion
Any consequences that don’t make the survivor’s life easier or reduce the harm they are living with, then it’s ineffective in my opinion – Judicalle Irakoze
How do you feel about social media shaming for rapists and abusers?
I don’t even call it shaming. It’s mandatory, it’s necessary. Their violence is rooted in our silence. So, I applaud that victims tell their stories in their own way. And that is so powerful.
Feminism and Immigrant Rights
What can we learn from history to curb the issue of rape culture today?
History has never been kind to women. All we have to know is that community isn’t society sustained with culture, unfortunately. We are the community, we are the society, we are the institution and it hurts us a lot when we exist in a culture where a 9-year-old girl will be raped by her father and still find a way to blame her for the act. It shows how tiring and horrible society is.
Would you say Africans find it difficult to deal with issues of sexual education because of sensitivity?
No. Africans like to talk about sex. We have so many traditions, rituals revolving around sex. I don’t think it is sensitivity, it’s just uncomfortable. Because sex education demands accountability and we exist in a culture that women are the ones raised to be held accountable for their bodies, actions, and ways of living.
What do you think about the representation of women in the media and how that contributes to rape culture?
We don’t talk enough about the male gaze and the women’s representation in media very often evolves around male consumption. It caters to the idea of womanhood by patriarchy and that’s dangerous because very often even when it promotes women’s sexual agency, it is still turning around desirability and being deemed worth by patriarchy’s standards. All of that contributes to rape culture and the idea that women’s bodies are dor male entitlement
Your work revolves around immigrant rights as well. What do you think a lot of people don’t know about these issues?
They are so many things not talked about enough. The most overlooked part is how gendered the immigration crisis is. Women and other gender minorities lose more of their rights when migration happens either forced migration or a personal choice of survival. Many other factors would come to play into it and such as race and class status and many more. We cannot achieve gender equity if we do not address the refugee crisis for example that affects women and girls very horribly as they are the most vulnerable. We cannot close the gender gap when most immigrants end up in minimum wages and that affect women and girls.