Communities talking about sexual and reproductive health
Consent Conference: How do we have conversations around consent?
Bangalore witnessed a conference on 27th July,2019, which was an amalgamation of ideas, identities and confusions melted in two languages – English and Kannada. A conference hosted by Partners in Law and Development, Sanagama, Cieds Collective, Alternative Forum and Hidden Pockets was an attempt to bring different communities together to dig deeper in conversations around consent.
The Consent conference was an attempt to take conversations on consent deeper, not only in the terrain of the familiar – mainly workspaces and gender relationships – recognised by law and regulation but also the unfamiliar spaces. It brought together the diverse understandings of the different communities.
Most of the current conversations around consent is fixated with law, or trying to gather evidence to establish consensual relationship. It is unable to capture the different complexities that one faces while trying to give or receive consent. This conference was an attempt to dig deeper and find out some of the finer details.
The whole day conference was a rich experience having community members from Sex Workers Collective, Garment Workers Union, Polyamory groups, Trans Community and Students Community.
Various facets of consent discussed :
Consent in a workspace:
In work places consent is often a power play which gets lost in the negotiation for job security. The men who often are the authority figure create an authoritative environment and dominate the women, who keep quiet in fear of losing their jobs. Sexual harassment is part of this authoritative environment and there is no room for negotiation. The attitude of the men is that it is normal and part of the job. Examples of sexual harassment are taunts, verbal abuse, touching and favouritism. Women have no power in the matter. Some leave their jobs and the rest are stuck because of financial conditions and the cultural taboo of quitting.
The business of rejection:
The business of consent is related to the issue of rejection and the feeling was that we needed no further understanding. Rejection is loss of self esteem for men, which is considered a loss of manhood. For women, it is like being shamed in a certain way. Most of us had no clue about how to handle rejection, and hence consent did not seem like an exciting prospect.
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Desire as part :
One of the sex workers beautifully captured this aspect. She said, “Sex is work for her and desire is not born in her work. Sexual harassment is not viewed as an issue in her profession. She is vulnerable in the outside world as her role is to cater to other people’s desires and there is no room for consent in their eyes”. Often it was difficult to draw a line between where did consent start and where did it finish.
Consent in identities :
Some of the identities like Trans gender community, are often at the receiving end of consent as it is often assumed that they changed their communities fully aware that they might be subjected to violence. As one of the speakers mentioned: “there is a hierarchy in transgender culture. Begging and sex work are the two main jobs performed by trans people. The older individuals usually beg while the younger ones are forced into sex work. In some aspects of their work, consent is respected like in begging. Money is never forcefully demanded. It is requested, and a refusal is respected.
Whereas in brothels, sex workers are classified based on gender, age, choice of sex (anal, vaginal…) by clients and the brothel owners. Consent is non-existent in this environment.
Within different castes :
One of the panellists shared her story about navigating consent while living in a live in relationship with someone from different caste. End of the day, she was left by him due to caste differences. She spent 7 years of her life with him. Did she give consent? Yes. Was she prepared to be left due to caste politics? No.
Even though we have been using this term in all procedures, one of the panelists felt that students, or professionals don’t have ability or understanding to ensure that people understand what are they undertaking. Nobody explains the process, and often it is just a signature.
These all were different stories shared by panelists who lived through and negotiated with it on a daily basis. The idea was to understand consent from our lived experiences and see how could one seek for and how could one receive.