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 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 other, we are disseminating the message and breaking down complex conversations into the simple tidbits. This month, we have Karo Omu joining us.
Karo is the founder of Sanitary Aid for Nigerian Girls and the Foundation for The Eradication of Child Labour. She is also a social media, marketing & brand specialist. Sanitary Aid for Nigerian Girls (S.A.N.G), is a non-profit activist organisation that aims to provide free sanitary pads and menstrual health advocacy for underprivileged young girls. Through her work with S.A.N.G, she has assisted over 20, 000 girls across ten states in Nigeria. We sat down with her to have a conversation about some important topics and here’s what she told us.
What does consent mean to you?
To me, consent means agreeing to sexual activity. In such situations, yes is yes and this yes must not have been gotten through coercion, force or blackmail. Also, minors cannot consent and last but not least, consent can be withdrawn at any time and that must be respected.
Why is early consent and sex education important and what do you think is the ideal age to begin teaching young children about consent?
Children should begin to learn consent as early as possible. As soon as you begin to verbally communicate with them, even when they can’t speak back, it is important to name the parts of their bodies and introduce them to consent education. An important part of consent is teaching about boundaries and respecting them yourself as a parent or guardian.
Who would you say is responsible for consent education for kids? Parents, schools, activists?
Everyone is responsible for consent education, however, parents & guardians should definitely be the ones who introduce their children to sexual education. However, everyone has an important role to play in teaching consent and creating an environment that teaches and is educated on consent.
In what ways can we learn to be clear about our own sexual boundaries and make the giving of our consent more transparent?
An important part of boundaries is communicating and having clarity about what we are willing to do sexually. Also, we should be comfortable with saying ‘no’. It is important to have some conversations with your sexual partner and also listen to their own boundaries and respect it.
How do you approach conversations with friends who have problematic views about consent?
In general, when people have problematic views about consent, I try to listen to their train of thought. It often turns out that they are simply refusing to think about the implication of their words or views. It is important to start with the basic concept that minors cannot consent and then take it from there.
Do you think there are grey areas with regards to consent? How do you approach this conversation?
I don’t believe there are grey areas, but I do believe people hang on to what they consider “grey areas” to avoid responsibility for their own questionable actions.
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?
I think more people need to get involved in teaching consent, not just activists. Opening these conversations creates more room for learning. We need to take a deep look at why our society chooses to victim blame instead of insisting on fighting toxic masculinity. Our society needs to amplify the voices of women’s organisations already tackling this issue. It is also pertinent to make sexual assault referral centres more accessible and the punishments stricter.
The Nigerian constitution and government aren’t friendly to victims of sexual harassment and assault. In a perfect world, what would be done right?
We need a more responsive system. The Nigerian society is very misogynistic and because most victims of sexual harassment & abuse are women, we are often blamed for what has happened to us.
What do you think is the appropriate consequence for sexual predators?
We need a central sex register that names offenders and protects other communities from them. We need lengthy jail time for convicted abusers, but before this, we need straightforward reporting channels that don’t make it difficult for victims. We need reorientation in our system that first prevent sexual crimes but having a healthy attitude towards sex and teaching consent early.
How do you feel about social media shaming for rapists and abusers?
I feel that the need for social media shaming has come up because we lack systems and processes that actually work. What I have noticed is that despite shaming on social media, the Nigerian society does not feel disgusted by sexual crimes so perpetrators still get away with their actions and it is still their victims that go into hiding.
The Girl Child
Your work with Sanitary Aid Nigeria allows you to reach a lot of women all over the world. What other issues pertinent to women do you think doesn’t get as much listening?
I believe that all issues affecting women and girls do not get enough attention. From education to girl child marriage to lack of access or fair legislation as it affects safe contraceptive options.
Why do you think it’s important to empower the Nigerian girl child?
Because of gender inequality & our patriarchal society, we now discuss the empowerment of girls as though it is abnormal when it is simply gendered equality. Girls need to be empowered with not just words but in all aspects of our system. It gives girls the confidence to be themselves, to aspire for more, to make their voices heard or to simply just be.
Countries like Scotland have made sanitary products free to combat period poverty. Why do you think Nigeria should do so? And how do you think is the next step to get there?
What Scotland has done is really inspiring and I really hope more nations including Nigeria can adopt that. The Nigerian government and society are quite intricate so I believe there are many hurdles till we can get there. However, I believe that with advocacy and pressure on the government, we will make some progress.
Do you think the Nigerian education system does a great job of teaching young girls about sexual health?
Your work has taken you to IDP camps as well. In a country where there is a refugee crisis, what issues do you think we don’t speak about enough?
Poverty. We have a huge population of people who do not eat up to two meals a day. Poverty dehumanizes people and puts them at risk for trafficking, radicalization and other harmful activities. Our government needs to urgently tackle insecurity and drastically reduce the number of displaced people or we will continue to suffer the effects for decades to come.