On Consent and How Nigerian Parents Unconsciously Teach Kids To Ignore It

There is a story I often think about when I need to remember the importance of calling body parts by their names especially by children. It goes like this: A child had been taught by her mother to refer to her vagina as her ‘cookie’. 

Each day this child would come to school and tell her teacher that she did not like how a man in the house touched her ‘cookie’. The teacher thought it was a joke and when she saw the mother at an open day, told her that someone was eating her daughter’s cookie. The mother froze because she knew that that meant that her daughter was being molested daily in her vagina.

As a feminist, I am a big advocate of teaching children about their body parts from as young as they can speak. And I believe that this should be done without an iota of shame attached to the use of those words. If the girl in the above story was taught from day one to call her vagina by its name, maybe the abuse she was encountering would have been mitigated much much earlier.

Now, in addition to teaching children about their body parts, I am also a feminist who is focused on teaching consent to young children in an all round manner. To put it simply, in and out of sexual situations, I’m interested in exploring the ways parents in Nigeria can teach their boys and girls consent.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that consent is important to be taught to children because their brains are still developing and because they are the next generation of society. But a grown man who actively rapes women does not need to be taught consent. He knows what consent is and chooses to disregard it. Instead, he should be publicly punished to send a message to young boys that such behaviour is not acceptable.

But back to Nigerian parents and consent. I have found that more often than not, Nigerian parents teach their kids nothing about consent or when they do, they indirectly teach their kids to ignore consent.

For example, most Nigerian parents require that you knock when you want to enter their rooms. However, the same cannot be said about them. They often enter into their children’s rooms without knocking. Knocking is not the issue here. What is the issue is that implanted in the children’s minds is the belief that there are two sets of rules that apply to those with power and those without power.

Furthermore, in Nigerian homes where both boys and girls exist, one often finds that messages of keeping virginity for an imaginary husband are preached to the girls in the presence of their brothers. 

But their brothers? They are allowed to be out at night with separate curfews from their elder sisters at night, given more pocket money and in some homes ignored when they bring girls over to sleep with. In most instances of the last example, their mothers even shame the girls who come to sleep with their sons. 

This then teaches that women’s bodies are theirs and that there would be lesser punishment should they err and hurt a woman.

In addition to the above, another way that Nigerian parents teach children to ignore consent comes during conversations about women celebrities. It can also outrightly come during conversations of women who have been assaulted.

For instance, a girl who has a father that continually slut shames women singers who “expose their bodies”, would find it difficult to come up to him when she is raped especially when she is raped by a man she was having premarital sex with. This is because she feels that he would shame her. Her brother too watches his dad making fun of sexually active women and knows that should he rape a “hoe”, then the blame would not be on him but on her. 

If he watches the negative reactions to a sex worker or a “bad” girl being raped, somewhere in his subconscious is the belief that for certain women and inevitably all women, blame for rape and the lack of bodily autonomy applies by default to them.

To conclude, children pick up on the unspoken and spoken things said and done by their parents and caregivers.

It is important that in addition to sex education curriculums on consent, caregivers of children consciously teach their wards to respect women and see women as full beings with agency and autonomy. That is the first step to ensuring that rape becomes a thing of the past.

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