Notes to broadcasters
Myths and misconceptions are information that is false. In Africa, they are common, and are a real barrier to the welfare of society. Doubtful and unsubstantiated information flourishes in our communities, mainly around taboo issues. This is the case, for example, with myths and misconceptions spread about sexual consent and contraceptives.
Sexual consent is the voluntary, free, and informed consent that someone gives to his or her partner before sexual intercourse, and birth control involves using methods to space out births and avoid pregnancies. Both concepts are subject to rumours and false information that can lead to serious problems within households.
For a better understanding of these concepts and their impact, this script presents interviews with three people. First, a lawyer talks about legal issues related to these topics. Then, a woman who once believed in myths and misconceptions about birth control and sexual consent will share her experience. And, last, we talk to the representative of an NGO dedicated to providing and promoting family planning services.
This script is based on real interviews. You might use it to do some research to produce a script on a similar topic in your region. You could also use voice actors to present this script on your radio station. If you do, please tell your audience at the beginning of the radio program that these are the voices of actors and not the original interviewees.
If you would like to create programs on myths and misconceptions about sexual consent and contraceptives, you should carefully research the topic. This will help you better understand it so that you can choose appropriate resource persons for interviews. Please take the time to interview people who used to believe in myths and misconceptions, a legal expert, and an NGO representative. You might want to ask them the following questions:
- What are the most common misconceptions about sexual consent and contraceptives?
- What are the legal definitions of sexual consent and contraception?
- How are sexual abuse survivors being cared for?
Estimated duration of this item including the signature tune, intro, and extro: 20 minutes.
Good morning, and welcome to our program about myths and misconceptions on sexual consent and contraceptives.
Today we will hear from three speakers. Suzanne Traoré is a young woman who used to believe false rumours about sexual consent and birth control. She will share her experience with us. Thiery Idrissa Goro is a lawyer by training and lecturer at the University of Ségou in Mali, and is also a focal point for UN Women in Ségou, and works on issues around gender-based violence. He will provide an expert view on the topic. Lastly, Hadizatou Coulibaly is a communication officer at an NGO called ASDAP, an organization dedicated to promoting and providing family planning services. She will discuss the support offered to women who experience gender-based violence.
Mr. Idrissa Goro, thanks for letting us interview you. To begin, what is sexual consent?
Legally speaking, sexual consent is defined as an agreement between two persons who have reached at least the age of sexual consent, defined as 18 years old in Mali, and who both desire to have sex.
Do you think it is necessary, in our cultural context, to obtain consent before any sexual intercourse?
The issue of sexual consent is quite sensitive, mainly in a traditional society like ours. Many people think that in marriage, consent is not required before sexual intercourse. But this is not true.
In your opinion, what do people think about this issue in Mali?
We live in a context where sex itself is a taboo. In the not-so-distant past, a woman was expected to be submissive to her husband and to fulfil his sexual desires. Her consent was overlooked. Various national, regional, and international efforts to promote women’s rights have largely succeeded in having women’s consent considered, but adherence to the principle of sexual consent is not totally achieved yet.
Legally, it is necessary to get consent before any sexual activity. Sexual relations are acts that involve physical intimacy with someone and, ultimately, the capacity of this person to decide what should happen with his or her body. Sexual intercourse without the consent of one of the partners is a violation of the right of a person to control his or her body. This right is protected by almost all international, regional, and national human rights agreements, it is thus necessary for both people to freely consent prior to any sexual activity.
What does the law say about sexual consent in Mali?
In Mali, like in Burkina Faso, there is no specific law on sexual consent. The criminal code of both countries defines rape as an act of sexual penetration, no matter what kind of sexual act, committed on another person by force, coercion, or surprise. In this definition, we see the importance of obtaining consent prior to any sexual activity. Without consent, sexual relations are like rape.
What are the legal sanctions in this area?
If unwanted sexual relations amount to rape, Article 226 of the criminal code provides a penalty of five to 20 years in prison. It also stipulates that any act of sexual penetration, whatever its nature, committed on another person without his or her consent, is considered rape. And the perpetrator could be fined between 250,000 and 800,000 FCFA.
Thanks, Professor Idrissa Goro. Now, let us turn to Ms. Suzanne Traoré. You said that you once believed myths and misconceptions about birth control and sexual consent. What did you suffer as a result?
Indeed, I once believed myths and misconceptions about contraception and sexual consent. I am 33 years old, and I got married less than four years ago. My husband was working at Comatex SA, a wax fabric factory. Before our wedding, my husband was an exemplary gentleman. He didn’t smoke or drink, and he had a good job.
On year after the wedding, he lost his job because the factory closed. This has affected him a lot. He spends his days sleeping, and likes to smoke and drink alcohol instead of looking for another job. We have a one-year-old daughter. Every day, my husband comes home late, often at two or three a.m.
As soon as he sees me, he jumps on me. And since he is stronger than me, he forcibly removes my clothes and has sex with me despite my screams and tears. He does it brutally and hurts me very badly. He does not even ask my consent and has sex with me as if I were an object in the house. I thought that this would stop over time, but it has continued for more than one year now.
After a consultation at the clinic, it turns out that I am pregnant, even though my daughter is not yet two-years-old. I had a Caesarian section and I have not even completely recovered (CRIES).
Why haven’t you informed your relatives about this situation?
Because people often say that women should never refuse to have sex with their husbands, and especially that religion prohibits it. By refusing sex, we will have cursed children who will never succeed in life. In the community, we are also told that a mother should be submissive to her spouse.
Now you are pregnant, though your daughter is not yet two years old. Why didn’t you use contraceptives to avoid becoming pregnant?
Because I was afraid. My mother-in-law told me that when a married woman uses contraceptives, she will have no more children. As a matter of fact, we are told that when a woman uses the long-term contraceptive called Jadelle or Alumetteni, this stops her periods. And when the blood from the periods accumulates, the person dies. As for using an IUD, we heard that the IUD is expelled with the child during birth. People also say that women who use injectable birth control, can spend more than seven years without having children.
How did you discover the truth about contraceptives, and what advice can you give to women who are in the same situation as you?
When I went to the community health centre called CSCOM, the midwife told me that all I heard about contraceptives was false and unfounded.
I recommend that women who are experiencing the same situation as me not keep silent as I did. Above all, I urge them not to believe the rumours and misconceptions around sexual consent and contraceptives.
Thank a lot, Suzanne. Let’s go now to Hadizatou Coulibaly, a communication officer at an NGO called ASDAP, an organization which offers and promotes family planning services. How do you promote family planning?
The Association de Soutien aux Actions de populations, also called ASDAP, is a non-governmental organization based in Bamako, the capital city of Mali. It has branches in all regions to better cover the country. ASDAP works in many areas, including training, raising awareness, advocacy, and delivering services. In terms of human rights, ASDAP’s goal is to contribute to women and girl’s enjoyment of their sexual and reproductive health rights. And we are also implementing a project to combat gender-based violence.
Is a married person always obliged to obtain consent prior to sexual intercourse?
Of course! Consent is an agreement made whenever you want to take part in a sexual activity, even if it is your usual partner. In other words, when someone wants to have sex, he or she must receive the other person’s consent. Even in couples who have a sexual “routine” and over time one partner wants to add some practices to the couple’s sexual activity, the other partner might not agree with these practices. You must receive the other partners’ consent before moving on.
Stakeholders in civil society like to talk about “spousal rape.” But people say: “No, one cannot talk of spousal rape because the wife belongs to the husband. She must accept this and not turn her back on her husband in bed. She must always be available and willing to have sex.” People may think that this is okay, but in fact, it is rape. If a sexual act is performed without the consent of the other partner, this is not acceptable.
Is a person capable of giving consent before sexual activity is he or she is drunk?
Consent must be given before sex. If either of the partners is drunk, it means that they do not have the capacity to give consent. Each partner must give their consent. And if they do not agree to have sex, the other partner’s responsibility is to stop. If they continue, they could be prosecuted.
You just heard from Ms. Suzanne, who used to believe false rumours about sexual consent and contraceptives. What do you know about this subject?
One of the major challenges we face is how to dispel rumours and misconceptions, which abound in our society. First, using birth control methods does not prevent pregnancies in the long term. With regards to family planning, parents can have as many children as they want, but for the health and well-being of the mother and the child, there should be at least two years between births. This helps the mother to recover well and prepare her body for child-bearing again. The two-year spacing also helps the child to receive the maximum benefit from exclusive breast feeding. What men do not understand is that, by spacing births two years apart, they could save money to invest in income-generating activities.
What should we learn from the various family planning methods?
Ms. Suzanne mentioned a rumour about the intrauterine device, commonly called an IUD or Ntérinim, which is available in Mali. This is a family planning device that is placed in a woman’s vagina and is effective for up to 12 years. She said she heard that if a woman uses it, the device will stick to the child and be expelled with the child during delivery. This is false! Health workers are the ones who place this device inside a woman’s vagina. And before doing so, they ask the woman a series of questions to see if she is a suitable candidate for an IUD. The IUD is very effective, and using it also helps prevent sexually transmitted infections.
Suzanne also mentioned rumours that injectable birth control can prevent women from having children for more than seven years. This is false. The truth is that there are two types of injections: two-month injections and three-month injections. After these periods, the injections are not effective, and women can again get pregnant.
Regarding birth control pills, these must be taken every day. Some women lose weight or gain weight when they take these pills, but these side effects are avoidable if you choose other methods of contraception.
Concerning the long-term birth control method called Jadelle which is inserted in the woman’s upper arm, Ms. Suzanne said that it stops women from having periods, which over time, can kill the women. This device contains hormones that change the woman’s body, as if she was pregnant. Thus, it is very common that her periods disappear. But this is not a health risk for the woman. As a matter of fact, once a woman removes the Jadelle injectable, which usually lasts three to five years, she can once again become pregnant.
Thank you for this information. What else did you learn about these rumours and misconceptions?
We hear a lot that contraceptives promote promiscuity, which is not true. Contraceptives rather provide young people with a way to prevent unwanted pregnancies, and to fully enjoy their sexuality in a responsible way. For couples, contraceptives allow them to have a child when they want it.
As for the condom, we hear that it can spread diseases or break during sex. This is false and misleading! The liquid in condoms is a lubricant meant to facilitate movement during intercourse. And very often, condoms that break have already expired. So check the expiration dates before using. Note that condoms have a dual role: they prevent unwanted pregnancies and protect against sexually transmitted diseases.
Generally speaking, what can you say about sexual consent and using contraceptives?
Sex without consent is a recurring issue. Indeed, we see that the number of unwanted pregnancies in our schools and households is rising. We must continue raising awareness and dispelling false rumours to better empower youth to face these challenges.
Who is to blame for this situation?
We are all responsible. First, young people are responsible: increasingly, they have no fixed point of reference regarding how they should behave. Anyway, their body belongs to them, and it is their duty to take care of it. Parents are also responsible because they must educate their children. If you don’t give information about sex to children, they will get it elsewhere. But what type of information are they going to look for? They will go to friends who don’t know much more than them, or they will look on social media and on the internet.
But if organizations that have well-planned programs can educate youth about sexuality, they will have good information. As for public policies, they need to be well-formulated, applied, and developed to ensure that young people can fully enjoy their sexual and reproductive health.
Dear listeners, we are at the end of this program. We thank you for listening. A special thank you to all our guests. Let’s remember that sexual consent is essential for the stability of couples, and it is one of the basic rights of women. In order for the couple to do well, there should be mutual consent between the two persons, whatever the situation. In addition to the fact that access to contraceptives is a right, family planning methods foster family welfare.
Regarding unwanted sexual relations, even if there is no specific law against this in Mali yet, the penalty for perpetrators of sexual abuse is imprisonment.
Furthermore, we should note that not everything we hear about birth control and family planning methods is true. There many false rumours. People should visit health centres or awareness raising sessions to become well-informed.
This program was produced with the contributions of Idrissa Thierry Goro, a lawyer, Mrs. Hadizatou Coulibaly of the NGO ASDAP, and Suzanne Traoré, a young woman, who is a survivor of sexual assault that was motivated by myths and misconceptions about sexual consent. Thanks for your contributions.
To our listeners, we will meet next time. In the meantime, take care.
Contributed by: Dioro Cisse, journalist, Ségou, Mali
Revised by: Goro Idrissa, lawyer and lecturer, University of Ségou, Mali
Goro Idrissa, lawyer and lecturer, University of Ségou, Mali. Interview done on May 9, 2022.
Hadizatou Coulibaly, communications officer, ASDAP. Interview done on May 10, 2022.
Suzanne Traoré, survivor of sexual assault. Interview done on May 7, 2022.
This resource was produced through the “HÉRÈ – Women’s Well-Being in Mali” initiative, which aims to improve the sexual and reproductive health well-being of women and girls and to strengthen the prevention of and response to gender-based violence in Sikasso, Ségou, Mopti, and the district of Bamako in Mali. The project is implemented by the HÉRÈ – MSI Mali Consortium, in partnership with Farm Radio International (RRI) and Women in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAF) with funding from Global Affairs Canada.