Ivory Coast ‘festival’ focuses on sexual consent
In a hall at the University of Abidjan, around 20 people are undergoing dance therapy, part of an innovative event designed to educate people on sexual politics.
“The beginning of consent is the power to say ‘no’,” says Franco-Congolese dancer Bolewa Sabourin as the workshop draws to a close.
“You see that feeling of pleasure, of pride that you get when you dance in front of people you don’t even know? That’s what we’re looking for.
Sexual violence is when abusers take control of women’s bodies to dominate their minds, he says. “They were beaten, raped.”
Dance is the exact opposite, he argues. “There, we go through the body to free the mind.”
Sabourin’s workshop was part of the first “Festival du Consentement”, organized to try to fight against gender-based violence.
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The event addressed a number of related issues, including men’s relationship to feminism and the links between feminism and religion.
“Our goal with this festival is to make it understood that consent concerns everyone, men and women,” Bénédicte Joan told AFP.
Joan, who organized the event, runs Stop au Chat Noir, an organization set up to help young victims of sexual abuse.
“Consent is about all types of gender-based violence,” from forced marriage to genital mutilation, Joan added.
Obstacles to justice
There is clearly work to be done.
Last September, television presenter Yves De M’Bella was suspended after hosting a program in which he laughingly encouraged a man presented as a former rapist to use a dummy to demonstrate how he abused his victims.
The show sparked a massive outcry, a protest outside NCI TV studios and a petition signed by 46,500 people.
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A report released earlier this month by the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) says victims of sexual violence in Côte d’Ivoire face a range of obstacles on the way. of Justice.
Although the latest official figures – for the year 2020 – recorded 822 cases of rape, 152 sexual assaults, 96 cases of forced marriage and 13 cases of female genital mutilation, these figures probably underestimate the scale of the problem, a he declared.
“Few survivors manage to denounce the sexual violence suffered”, underlines the report. And even when they did, he added: “Medical, psychological and social care, as well as access to justice, are not assured.”
“You have to wake up”
The festival at Félix Houphouët-Boigny University in Abidjan was the culmination of months of contacts between students and activists with the associations behind the event.
Over the weekend, hundreds of students debated the issues with activists.
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“When you travel around the country, you realize that there is still a lot of work to be done,” said Diomande Ben Mohamed, a civil engineering student.
“There are things that still happen to our sisters,” he added. “When you see that, it pushes you to join the associations.
“We have to wake up now. This is a fight for the whole family, it’s not just about women,” he insisted.
“Young people need to be aware of this.”
Sociology student Syntiche Zadi has seen progress, however.
“Our generation is aware of the importance of these issues, of not being violent towards women,” she said.
“When you wear T-shirts from our associations with messages on them, you are often challenged and questioned about them,” she added.
At another festival event, Bintou Mariam of Equipop, an international group campaigning for the rights and health of women and girls, debated the issues with a group of students.
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They discussed the place of old-fashioned gallantry; and to what extent feminism could be reconciled with the traditions and culture of the country — how, for example, a wife could resist her husband’s desire for a polygamous home.
“Tradition is often invoked as a pretext,” said Bintou Mariam. “There is a lot of hypocrisy about women’s rights.”
But she added: “A woman exists as a wife, not as an extension of her husband.”
TV presenter De M’Bella was fined and given a suspended 12-month prison sentence for condoning rape and indecency.
He no longer works for NCI but has a show on a popular radio station, Nostalgie.