Yvonne E. Mwende
Consent is permission for something to happen or an agreement to do something. Consent requires respect and communication. It includes knowing and respecting a person’s own boundaries as well as the boundaries of others. Understanding consent means that a person has the skills to leave a situation that doesn’t feel comfortable, and respects when other people want to do the same. Note that, consent is agreed upon by the parties involved, and with a clear understanding of what they are agreeing to.
Here are 6 tips to practice in understanding consent:
- Build stronger, healthier boundaries
A vital part of understanding and communicating consent is discussing with family and friends. What does ‘bad touch’, ‘good touch’ look like? Or even what does it mean? Establish boundaries in the home and with your immediate community and clearly define your boundaries. For instance, get you friends and family to seek consent before trying to invade your personal space. Like saying, “Can I high five you instead?” when a hug isn’t welcome.
- ’No’ and ’Stop’ are important words and should be honored
Consent is freely given. Agreeing to do something is consent only if it’s voluntary. ‘No’ always means ‘no’ whether given verbally or non-verbally. A lack of affirmative positive — where a ‘yes’ is not freely given is also a ‘no’. A ‘yes’ isn’t consent if someone is coerced. Examples of coercion are if the person pressures, pesters, threatens, guilt trips, blackmails, intimidates, bullies, or harasses someone. Consent given in the past doesn’t apply to any activities that happen later.
- Read facial expressions and other body language
Non-verbal’s are a great way of reading if someone is consenting or not. Consent is ongoing: one person asks permission for an activity and another person gives it. This conversation needs to continue as the activity continues or changes. Hence, consent can be withdrawn at any time. At any point, people can change their mind and withdraw consent.
- Understand the importance of reporting
Learn to communicate incidences of unwanted physical touch or violation of your bodily autonomy. Kids should understand that having anyone touch them sexually should be reported to an adult they trust. And in this respect children should be encouraged to wash their genitals.
Reporting breaches of consent is necessary to preserve yourself from further bodily harm. For instance, if someone places their hand on your thigh in a public space, ask them to stop, if they don’t, escalate the issue by calling for help. Don’t suffer in silence.
- Your behaviors affect others
What do you think happens when you litter? Or when you smoke in a No smoking zone? Will someone else have to clean up the litter? Will other people follow your example and create a garbage dump where there was none? Will someone’s health be affected as a result of your pollution? Yes, your behaviors do affect others. So before you forcefully hug or kiss someone (even your child), or breach consent, carefully consider how it will affect them.
- Learn about ’gut feelings’ or instincts
Sometimes we are not entirely sure what to make of a situation; we are not quite sure why we are uncomfortable. That’s our gut instinct kicking in. Some things make us feel weird, or scared, or yucky and we don’t know why — that ‘belly voice’ is sometimes correct. Learn to listen to it and respond accordingly. It might save your life.
One of the most rewarding aspects of growth is our ability to break harmful cycles, create new standards, and improve life for future generations. At I Am My Bodyguard we are committed to empower you through awareness building, so as to enable you protect yourself against all types of violence including gender-based sexual violence.