Pulse Chats with Uche Umolu, The Founder of The Consent Workshop Part 1

She talks about rape, #NameandShame, consent, the lekki boys accused of rape, feminism and more.

Uche Umolu, founder of 'The Consent Workshop. (Uche Omolu)

Her name is Uche Umolu. When she’s not fighting the good fight, confronting racists with her chest, though still intense, she is a delight to converse with, but watch your steps. A quick misstep will earn you a quick call to rework your way back to ‘sense.’ But more interestingly, she is quite the kind of friend you would want to have – she feels loyal and keen to protect those she care about.

Umolu is a Titan. When she is not dealing with serially accused harassers of women, she is a 24-year-old who studies for a Bachelor of Commerce in Digital Business Management.

When she is not fighting for liberation and for the scourge of rape to become a thing of the past, stirring supposed bigots to pettiness and multiple suspended Twitter accounts, she is the founder of the social enterprise\nonprofit called The Consent Workshop (@ConsentWorkshop on Twitter) leading over 150 volunteers globally to end rape culture.

The Consent Workshop is, “a foundation that seeks to deconstruct the rape culture that exists in our nation and in the minds of our people.”

The day before the International Women’s Day 2019, Umolu talks to Pulse about herself, her perspective on feminism, rape, the power of public shaming as an instrument against rape, The Consent Workshop, the importance of a Sex Offenders’ Registry, her multiple Twitter suspensions and her hopes and aspirations.

But then, the chat was so interesting that the content of this chat will best be serialized. So for this first part, Umolu talks about herself, her perspective on feminism, rape and the power of public shaming as an instrument against rape. Here goes;

What does feminism mean to Uche Umolu?

Feminism means more than a movement to me. It's the transcendence of gender norms and roles to realize your full potential. Feminism, most importantly, it’s about the complete destruction of patriarchy. No sugar coating about it - the patriarchy must be eliminated.

When did you become a feminist?

I have always been a feminist before I could even recognize the word. I was well aware of my environment as a kid and always knew women were treated differently - this ‘knowing feeling’ of deserving more.

Regardless of whether I was a boy or girl, it (feminism) has always been in me. It also helped that I was raised around feminism and women who pushed expectations to achieve their heart’s desire.

I have an elder sister who quit law school for a creative arts degree and went on to gain a Master’s degree in Gender Students. My parents were encouraging, loving and did not subscribe to your typical gender norms that hold girls back at an early age. It was simply about pushing me to greater levels. Not being a feminist was simply never an option for me

You are a vocal feminist, at what point would you say you realized the need to be that? Was it intentional?

It wasn't intentional. This is just naturally who I have always been. Using my voice as efficiently as possible is my own form of activism so being vocal comes with the job. In the history of gender studies, there has been the steady trail of loud voices pushing feminist reforms.

Not everyone certainly can be a loud voice in the movement, or a leader, but I am one and I do it well. And for my area focus, which is advocating against gender based violence, being vocal is key.

What would you say is the nature, operation and future of feminism in Nigeria?

The idea of feminism in a conservative country like Nigeria is so radical, yet at the same time not so much. Feminism in Nigeria is unfortunately limited. And there are several reasons for this. The most obvious being how systemically and culturally deep rooted gender inequality, gender based violence and misogyny is.

As a result the parameters in which Nigeria feminists can engage is very restrictive. You are pushing against the system and you are also pushing against your culture. It is a difficult road for any woman to be on and there is only so much that can be done while trying to maneuver patriarchal systems that have outlasted decades.

I mean, how does one begin to fully campaign against gender-based violence when our own country has fewer than 30 convictions for rape? How do you demand respect for female bodies when fancy restaurants in Nigeria assume all single female customers are sex workers?

It is the challenges that makes Nigerian feminism much more difficult to operate than any. I commend every single feminist in Nigeria. It is no easy feat. However, we shall progress and make strides. Our challenges are very different from the western world but we will get there.

I mean in 2019, and we are still fighting for the eradication of FGM. We shall not only progress in Nigerian feminism but we also bring along other marginalized oppressed groups who deserve rights to live and love. 

What does being a feminist in Nigeria mean?

It means me a woman vs. a system created to destroy and shrink you.

Why did you become an advocate against rape?

Advocate against rape implies that rape is a subjective issue where anyone could be or against it. That is wrong. Everyone should be an advocate for rape - everyone. And not just rape, every form of sexual abuse out there. So when did I become an advocate against rape? When I could discern consensual sex from the rest.

Consent has now become a key conversation in Nigeria, how has that helped rape in anyway?

The underlying cause of sexual violence and abuse is a disregard of consent. Rape is about power, control and entitlement to bodies. Preaching that there is a clear distinction between healthy and bad sex choices tackles the entitlement to bodies.

Secondly, rape is not the only form of sexual violence so it should not be the focus of the question. There is molestation, sexual harassment, sexual grooming and manipulation and so forth. The list is endless.

Consent avoids all of these including rape. When we know better, we do better. We are talking years of unlearning normalized behavior. This conversation should have started long time ago.

Most adults were molested as kids either by adults or another teenager or youth, who most likely got a similar treatment from another adult. A painful destructive cycle that won’t stop till it is nipped in the bud. We can scream justice for rape all we want but what about focusing on avoiding future incidents?

This is what the conversation centering consent does. We are saving generations to come from trauma.

On Consent workshop, there is a mainstay, #NameandShame, what does it mean?

This is the hashtag for our campaign for the Sex Offenders Registry in Nigeria. Name and Shame means exactly how it is written. Name and Shame.

In Nigeria, the onus is put on the victims to defend their honor and body when news gets out. The victim should never feel the shame of defending their body. Name and shame pushes for a staunch way where the shame remains solely on the perpetrators, not the victims. And that can only be done systematically. Hence, the call for a Sex Offender’s registry.

How do you think public shaming translates to winning against rape in Nigeria?

Canada, UK, America, Australia and about countless more sane countries effectively use shame to curb sexual violence. It is called a sex offenders registry where the entire idea is rooted in using shame as a deterrent. Why would Nigeria be any different?

It literally prevents more rape cases. Shaming brings perpetrators to light who comfortably walk among us like they are normal, thereby removing the comfortable opportunity for them to commit new crimes to new victims.

In my most recent shaming session which led to suspension of my account, the perpetrator is well respected in the Nigerian political sphere and his immediate community. Most people had no idea these monster had been sexually grooming and manipulating girls as young as 14 for 5 years.

In other words, a serial predator was casually allowed to continue preying on new victims with no knowledge of his character. But guess what? Now people do know and it will be immensely difficult for that man to solicit another victim via social media, at least.

I think the impact of shaming is obvious in this instance. Shame is effective. Period. I’m here because I have publicly shamed a few perpetrators into being booked for justice. It works very well in Nigeria and do you know why?

We fear shame more than we fear corruption. It is a human phenomena, but Nigerians put so much emphasis on “keeping your dirty linen to yourself” that we as activists must weaponize to our advantage.

The method of using shame didn't start with me nor in Nigeria. The #Metoo movement saw the public shaming of celebrities who were abusers. And more importantly it is LESS about shame and more about giving victims a platform to speak their truth. If speaking the truth comes along with shaming a perpetrator then so be it.

How can we eradicate rape in Nigeria asides public shaming?

●       Reform the justice system: The courts, police, and so forth. They have proven to be corrupt, incompetent and worse, without empathy to victims of sexual abuse. It is tiring when citizens can’t even trust their own government to protect them. Nonprofits in Nigeria are now taking the mantle up. It should not be this way.

●       Infuse sex education into schools: Starting with early secondary school, or if possible, primary school levels. The Consent Workshop could help guide this policy.

●       Train and sensitize the Nigerian Police on handling sexual criminal cases: The senseless amount of non-convictions because of the nonchalant handling of cases and lack of resources is alarming. For victims in Nigeria, the police is their first stop for judgment, not help

●       Implement government-run, non-judgemental centres that cater to victims: We have a serious sexual violence problem in this country and we must not leave it up to nonprofits to fix it.

On the issue of Chima George and Segun Razak, what is your reaction to the Nigerian Police Force refuting claims that the suspects had been released from jail?

I have just one question for the Nigerian Police; would there have be skepticism over this case if they ever had a good track record of convicting sexual abuse criminals? 

I challenge the Nigerian Police Force to do better when handling cases of sexual violence, then I, myself and other doubters of their competency will eat our words.

I do not make any claims but they do say seeing is believing and so far I have seen nothing. My lack of faith in the system is not an imagination, neither am I the only Thomas here. We’ve seen money and privilege being used to escape justice. This is Nigeria *Donald Glover voice* and it is what it is. My skepticism is rooted in reality, lets focus on keeping criminals in jail where they belong and prove me wrong.


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