Tween Talk with Eugenia Tachie-Menson: Consent – what it really means…


I always have had a fair understanding of what this word means; basically, to allow or give permission to be a part of something, or to agree for something to be done to you.  You can crosscheck with your dictionary, and my loose meaning should be somewhere in there. As the years have gone by, this word has gained more prominence than what the dictionary gives us. That, or my understanding of the word has been amplified by world events, especially in the last decade plus.

I had a renewed understanding of this word as a student in London many years ago.  If you live in Ghana, you would have realised by now that we are a very ‘touchy-touchy-feely-feely’ people. It’s a way we express concern, appreciation, joy, and general cordiality.

Matter of fact, you’re not considered Ghanaian if you cannot be ‘touchy-feely’.  So, we all grow up accepting it’s a universal language. My usually bubbly colleague (note, I didn’t say friend) in class seemed extra withdrawn, curt, and very non-communicative.  I was a tad worried about her countenance and made a mental note to go over to her after the class.

As I walked up to her, barely after the lecturer has left the room, I started calling out her name, but she didn’t turn around. I sat by her side and called her name again, this time, softly, as I was much closer to her. Still no reaction, no response. I put my hand on her shoulder and went: “What’s wrong?” I felt her shoulder muscles contract, as I touched. I thought she must be tensed. I continued to embrace her; nothing prepared me for her reaction. She shoved me back so hard I fought to maintain my balance. She just gave me a blank stare as I tried to gain my composure. “Why would she do that? What did I do wrong? I was only trying to help,” I murmured. Two other colleagues came to my side to pull me away, and expressed surprise at the fact that I was surprised at her reaction; “It’s her personal space and body, you know?”, one of them said, looking at me puzzled. And with that, I learnt (the lesson) that not every culture accepts what I take for granted as CONSENT.

This incident would cement my appreciation for the concept of consent.

This next definition of consent is what seems to be more pervasive these days, body boundary. You must be protective of your own body and your space. You must not allow or encourage people to touch or speak about any part of your body you find uncomfortable.

It’s a different matter if you’re at the doctor’s, in which case a trusted family member should be with you. You shouldn’t just throw your arms around people’s neck and waists because you want to hug them or slide your palm into theirs; you should ask if it’s ok to do so first. Again, don’t give in to (peer or otherwise) pressure to accept hugs or give them; it’s your body and you must guard it jealously.

Consent also means how you allow or accept to be what others say or do to you (negatively) to affect your mood and mindset. When people choose to treat you badly, do not give them the consent to make you feel sad or horrible. Their choice speaks more of their character than it does yours.  So the next time someone lets you down, lies to you, uses bad words on you or cheats you out of an agreement, do not let the feeling of disappointment fester…because you’re handing over them the reins of your CONSENT.

The most basic principle of consent is simple – that there are two people involved and their intentions may vary. Therefore, if one person doesn’t wish to participate in an activity, or is uncomfortable with it or something being said, then the other shouldn’t try to force them to like it.

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