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What Determines Consent? Tip: NOT A Woman’s Clothes Or Body Language

When asked about her experience with consent, 20-year-old Shambhavi says, “Sometimes, boys have tried to shame me into indulging in sexual acts that I wasn’t comfortable with. They assume that the way that I dress, the ‘casual’ lifestyle that I follow, or even the sexual partners I’ve had are indicators of consent for them. I want people to understand that this is not how consent works. I can say no whenever I want to and it’s not a decision someone else gets to take for me.”

What Is Implied Consent?

Source: Behance

A simple Google search will tell you that “Implied Consent” is consent that is not expressly granted by a person but rather implicitly granted by a person’s actions and the circumstances of a particular situation or, in some cases, by a person’s silence or inaction.

We have often found that in most situations in today’s day and age, consent is a concept not clearly understood by many.

Consent In The Workplace

A survey conducted by the Network of Women in Media, India, and Gender at Work, found that over one-third of respondents had experienced some form of sexual harassment at their workplaces—and over half of them did not report the incident.

Decades’ worth of struggles is why women are starting to get equal opportunity in their workspace, but studies have shown that this results in a need for the assertion of power by men over women. These may be through various means, often including sexual favours for employment or opportunities and humiliation in the workplace.

Source: Pinterest

Ayesha Singh says, “I’d finally landed the internship I had always wanted, and my superior was someone I had always admired. On my second day, he told me that my admiration must translate to sexual interest too. This wasn’t the case, but because of his position, I found it difficult to say no. It would’ve resulted in me losing my dream.”

It is often assumed that a woman’s character, body language, or idolisation of superiors are tokens for consent in the workplace. Women in the workplace are advised to be careful about the clothes they wear, how they carry themselves, and even the way they interact with their colleagues. A man’s pat on the back is taken quite differently from that of a woman’s, sometimes even used as an indication of “interest”.

“But sir, she was so casual around me. I assumed she was interested in me and wanted to take it forward.”

“She was wearing such short skirts to work. I assumed she must be interested in sex, naturally, why would she say no to me?”

“We always drink together. I assumed her character is such, so I thought she’ll want to be with me.”  

These are statements Ayesha never thought she’d hear but, unfortunately, have become part of her daily life.

A Woman’s Character

Source: Pinterest

“Kisi bhi ladki ko, kisi bhi ladke ke saath, kahi bhi akele nahi jana chahiye. Kyunki aisa karne pe, wahan ke log ye assume kar lete hai ki wo ladki willingly wahan pe aayi hai aur unhe usse touch karne ka license issue kar dia gaya hai.”

What you read is a hard-hitting dialogue from Taapsee Pannu’s Pink, a movie that brought to light the harsh reality of implied consent in today’s society. It’s often found that if a woman wears certain clothes, has had multiple sexual partners, or even follows a certain lifestyle; people assume that she’d welcome even unwanted sexual advances.

In a study conducted in 2017 by Susannah Zietz and Madhumita Das on perceptions of sexual harassment among young men in Mumbai, it was found that a girl’s perceived character played an important role in deciding whether she “deserved” to be harassed or not. A participant of the study was found to say, “First, we look at the girl. If she is good, then we don’t do anything. If we feel that she is of loose morals, then we start teasing her.”

The idea that harassing a sexually active woman is less of an offence than to harass a “purer” woman is frighteningly common and prosecution for the same often turns on the need for the victim to prove that she did not “have it coming”. In India, this notion only contributes further to the horrifying reality of prevalent rape culture.

As shown in the movie Pink, society always finds it easier to assume that since the girl has a certain “unacceptable” character, that because she was drinking in the club that one night or dancing with boys, she had lost all rights over her physical and sexual autonomy the very minute she showed signs of not fitting into the mould of a purer woman.

It’s a sick truth that a woman’s lifestyle choices and her willingness to consent to sexual acts are thought to be tied to each other, and it’s a knot the patriarchal society refuses to untie.

You’re A Boy, Don’t You Always Want Sex?

In 2011, Grace Brown, a photography student in New York, started Project Unbreakable to give a platform to sexual assault victims. Many men came forward to share heartbreaking stories of harassment and dismissal of their traumas by society.

Due to masculine gender socialisation, it’s found that male sexual assault victims have to face various stigmas. “Often, male survivors may be less likely to identify what happened to them as abuse or assault because of the general notion that men always want sex,” says Jennifer Marsh, the vice president for Victim Services at RAINN, an anti-sexual violence organisation.

In many cases, arousal is considered to be consent enough. Roy J. Levin and Willy Van Berlo wrote in an article in the Journal of Clinical Forensic Medicine that slight genital stimulation or stress can create erections “even though no specific sexual stimulation is present”.

Societal pressure and norms often invalidate the need for consent in the case of male assault victims, especially when survivors share their trauma within social circles.

“You’re a boy; she’s showing interest in you; why are you uncomfortable? Just relax, be a man.”  

“As it is, you like to engage in sexual activities, why won’t you be interested in doing this with me? Action mil raha hai na?”

These are things Akash had to hear when he expressed discomfort regarding a particular non-consensual encounter.

Marriage ≠ Consent 

Source: Healthline

Marriage as an institution shouldn’t imply blanket consent for physical relations, but, in August 2019, the former Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra, said that giving validity to marital rape above the age of 15 years was not a good idea, “because it will create absolute anarchy in families and our country is sustaining itself because of the family platform which upholds family values,” Deccan Herald quoted Misra as saying.

To give some context to our reader, under Exception 2 to Section 375, it allows the husband of a girl child between 15 and 18 years of age blanket liberty and freedom to have non-consensual sexual intercourse with her. Her willingness or consent is of no concern.

It is a simple truth that being married does not mean that content should be taken for granted. By refusing to acknowledge the existence of marital rape, the Government reinforces the role that has been forced upon women for centuries, that of a “provider” existing only to satisfy men’s needs, without a say in the matter.

The existing belief is that when a woman gets married, she automatically signs a contract that allows blanket consent to her partner, and for a woman to refuse her “duty” would result in anarchy and the disruption of this seemingly sacred institution.

report by the National Family Health Survey states that nearly two in five (37%) married women have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence by their husband, and one in 10 married women have experienced sexual violence at the hands of their husband, i.e. they have been physically forced against their will by their husband to have sex or perform other sexual acts they did not want to perform. These statistics reveal the dark truth of implied consent within the institution of marriage in India. The Government’s decision to immunise a husband’s actions only endanger women’s safety even more.

Consent In Relationships 

Being in a relationship isn’t a one-way ticket to blanket consent. To initiate and sustain patterns of healthy communication, it is important to ensure that boundaries are set. It’s believed that emphasising explicit consent takes away from the spontaneity of the moment, but as said in this article by The Guardian:

“If the mood can be ruined with a question, it probably wasn’t so hot, to begin with.”

Just because you’ve kissed a person does not mean they will always want to take it to the next step. Implied continuous consent is a myth and it’s necessary to always check in with your partner.

Source: Reporter.rit.edu

Some of the best ways to seek and ensure consent have been stated in this article by Feminism In India:

  • The only best way is to ask politely yet firmly, but not more than once.
  • Another thing that helps is regularly checking in on your partner at the time of any sexual activity. Words like, “Hey, do you like this?”, “How are you feeling?” etc.
  • Just try to focus on your partner’s body language at all times and if something feels amiss, please pause right there and ask them if everything is fine.

Our daily lives are evidence enough that this flawed understanding of consent is deeply embedded in our thoughts and beliefs. This article is a reminder to our readers that a person’s clothes, sexual history, or even their relationship with their significant other do not fall under the umbrella of blanket consent.

It’s a sad truth that consent is tangled in the web of gender, caste and class and it’s up to us to provide appropriate education about sexual health and consent in a positive light. I hope each one of us will fulfil this responsibility.

By Arshia Bathla

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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