Changing Narratives of Sexuality
Our Changing Narratives of Sexuality theme came from the entry point of 'Body'. From rights over our own bodies, to choose when and with whom we have children and sexualities of our own choosing to the ways our bodies are represented in media and religion.
Our projects under this theme aim to go beyond a problem and victim focused approach to issues of sexuality to celebrate the positive dimensions of women's sexuality, and explore what it takes to bring about change that can enable women to enjoy rights to their own bodies, sexualities and pleasures.
Our activities around this theme over the last year includes:
Charmaine Pereira, from the Initiative for Women's Studies in Nigeria (IWSN) and Convenor of the Pathways programme 'Changing Narratives of Sexuality' theme was interviewed along with Ene Ufot Ekaette Akwa, Nigeria Senator for Ibom state, on the topic of 'Should Women's Dress be Controlled by Legislation?' for the BBC World Service Programme – Africa Have Your Say – produced by Ellen Otzen and presented by Alex Jakana.
The following five audio snippets are taken from the programme and we thank Ellen Otzen, Alex Jakana and the BBC for their kind permission to reuse this material.
http://media.switchpod.com/users/pathways08/Part01.mp3 (2 mins)
Alex Jakana introduces the show – he notes that recently women in Kenya, in Africa’s Rift Valley have been attacked for wearing trousers; stripped by men who regarded their dress as ‘immoral’, he mentions also that in Nigeria legislation is being proposed that seeks to punish ‘indecent dressing’. Jakana asks who should decide what constitutes in/decent attire and whether it is something that governments should legislate on. He then introduces Ene Ufot Ekaette Akwa, the Nigerian Senator responsible for proposing the bill (the Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Women and Youth Affairs). The senator talks of the problem of rising incidences of rape in Africa that in her opinion are linked to the provocation caused by those who dress indecently.
http://media.switchpod.com/users/pathways08/Part02.mp3 (3 mins)
The Senator explaining her definition of ‘indecent dress’ and what she sees as the link between sex offences like rape that justifies her campaign for legislative reform.
http://media.switchpod.com/users/pathways08/Part03.mp3 (2 mins)
Alex introduces Charmaine Pereira, the National Co-ordinator of the Initiative for Women’s Studies in Abuja, Nigeria. Charmaine responds to the Senator's arguments. She argues that the Senator’s position is a fairly common reaction that we see in many societies that have undergone complex change, where people feel their lives are no longer under control. This sense of the loss of control leads to a moral panic, and the site of this panic is often women, women’s bodies, women’s sexuality. Where societies have experienced vast changes in social relations, women often come to be seen as the problem. The simplistic solution then put forward to solve this problem is to control women. Charmaine notes that this approach erroneously conflates immorality with women’s dress codes.
http://media.switchpod.com/users/pathways08/Part04.mp3 (2 mins)
The Senator responds to Charmaine by saying that ‘we take the issue of women to a level that condones everything we think will preserve their dignity, rather than looking at whether this will put women in unacceptable situations’ and Alex then sums up his understanding of Charmaine’s argument.
A second contribution from Charmaine where she responds to the Senator’s claim that there is a connection between indecent dress and sexual offences. Charmaine argues that she takes great offence to the Senator maintaining that most rapes in Nigeria involve victims who are inappropriately dressed, she points out that most cases of rape go unreported, so we have no idea of the attire of the victims. She argues that women should NOT be held responsible for sexual offences perpetrated against them. She points out that the fact that many people think there is a link between ‘inappropriate dress’ and the rate of sexual violence does not mean this is the case but merely that there is widespread misunderstanding about these issues. She goes on to say that if the Senator is concerned with the level of sexual violence she would do well to support the existing bill for Prevention and Prohibition of Violence Against Women which has been in the house since 2003, and was put forward by a coalition of women’s rights and human rights organisations. This bill has been both thoroughly thought through and debated for years.
Mulki Al-Sharmani from the Social Research Center (SRC) at the American University in Cairo (AUC) has been working on a project under the 'Changing Narratives of Sexuality' theme seeking to understand the way in which women’s use of family courts and reforms in personal status laws strengthen women’s sexual and/or reproductive rights; what women’s actions tell us about the links between reproduction and sexuality; and how an understanding of such links could be used to further women’s empowerment.
She carried out fieldwork in February/March and April/May 2007 and gave a presentation of the study and its progress to policymakers in mid-April. The final workshop for dissemination and discussion of the findings was held on 5 February 2008.
See: 'Recent Reforms in Personal Status Laws and Women's Empowerment: Family Courts in Egypt', Mulki Al-Sharmani and a Summary of the Paper.
Mulki Al-Sharmani, 'Egypt's Family Courts: Route to Empowerment?', Open Democracy, 7 September 2007
In October 2007, as part of its project on 'Feminisms and the Struggle for Reproductive Health and Reproductive Rights: the Brazilian Experience', the Pathways RPC teamed up with the Realising Rights RPC to co-organise a panel on 'Experiences of Abortion Law Reform' at the Marie Stopes Global Conference on Abortion in London. Cecilia Sardenberg, Convenor of the Latin American Hub, and Silvia Lucia Ferreira from the Latin American Hub Team together with Gilberta Soares who is on the Latin American Hub Advisory Group participated in the conference on behalf of Pathways.
See: Cecilia Sardenberg, 'The Right to Abortion: Briefing from Brazil', Open Democracy, 26 October 2007
Also Cecilia's piece on the debate on the legalisation of abortion on demand in Brazil, 'Getting Hotter by the Day'
The RPC is working with The Pleasure Project on a literature review on promoting sexual health and rights through pleasure.
The review looks at whether aspects of pleasure can be used to promote safer sex and empowerment, particularly among women. The review builds upon a preliminary examination of the evidence base that was published as a Viewpoint in The Lancet ("Promoting Protection and Pleasure: amplifying the effectiveness of barriers against sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy", Volume 368 1, Dec 2006). The review will further investigate evidence of:
- health and psychosocial outcomes of positive approaches to safer sex
- how gender and power dynamics influence – and are influenced by – pleasure-oriented approaches to safer sex
- how pleasure promotion for safer sex can empower people to re-negotiate gender and sexual boundaries in order to practice safer sex
- effectiveness of pleasure approaches compared to conventional disease/risk-oriented approaches
- contexts in which pleasure-focused safer sex campaigns may or may not be successful
This work will link and support the updating of “The Global mapping of pleasure” – in investigating complimentary data sources, providing access to grey literature and framing analysis of both pieces of work. The literature review will undertake searches through published literature, but due to the likely paucity of data, it will also search grey literature, project documents and conference proceedings.
See: The Pleasure Project website and The Pleasure Project: Global Mapping of Pleasure
From 15-18 October 2007, the Pathways RPC joined with the Institute of Development Studies, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance and the Alliance National Contre le Sida, ANCS to participate in a Symposium on 'Politicising Masculinities' in Dakar, Senegal. Andrea Cornwall, Tessa Lewin and Samia Rahim (BRAC) attended the meeting which brought together activists, practitioners and academics to revisit theories of masculinity through the analysis of practices that are changing men’s gender identities and relations.
See Emily Esplen, 'Men and Gender Justice: Old Debate, New Perspective', Open Democracy, 28 February 2008, for more information.
Also Tessa Lewin's Blog from the Symposium as part of Open Democracy's 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence theme.