“I’m one of those people who believes that pre-colonial Africa was way more accepting of women’s sexuality and desire. We can see this in some of our traditional beliefs and practices.” – Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah
As part of the YNaija Special Series on Rape culture, our guest editor, Angel Nduka-Nwosu was in conversation with Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah, Author of The Sex Lives of African Women, to discuss how in the fight to end rape culture, normalising female desires cannot be debatable.
Ms. Sekyiamah is Co-founder of Adventures From, a website and blog that is dedicated to documenting and educating African women of multiple sexualities about issues regarding safe and pleasurable sex and even more importantly, Adventures From has carved a niche for itself beyond even the online community of women talking about otherwise taboo topics, to being a safe space and resource centre for African women seeking information on sex that is shame free and unbiased.
In your work as the Co-founder of Adventures From, what are some things you have observed that people wrongly associate women who are openly sexual with rape culture and how do you think we can change that?
Rape culture are all the practices within society that blame survivors of violence instead of targeting the people who perpetuate violence against women. We can see this in the kind of questions targeted at women who survive rape. What were you wearing? What did you do? Why did you go out with him etc?
Women who are perceived as sexual tend to find that as survivors of violence, their morality tends to be on trial. We can end this by recognizing that nothing anyone does is a reason for them to experience violence. Rape happens because rapists exists. The end.
It has been said that much of the conversation around sexual assault revolves around the violation of women and hardly on post-traumatic sexual recovery. Do you agree with this? If not, why?
I think we need all the types of conversation. We need to talk about the pandemic of violence that women continue to face whilst providing a comprehensive range of medical and psycho social support for survivors.
Why do you think it’s important that the conversation shifts from women’s bodies being storehouses of pain, to being active participants in owning their own desire?
It’s not really about a shift per say for me, it’s more about my personal area of interest. For example, myself and an amazing group of activists led by Nana Akosua Hanson and Fatima Derby are currently co-organising ‘Odyssey of Desire,’ which is the theme for this year’s Adventures Live festival.
We chose to focus on desire because we recognise that it is a radical act for women, queer, and gender non-conforming bodies to fully own their desires. Owing your desire can take you on a journey to own your self which is ultimately about freedom. Personal freedom and when practiced with like minded people, collective freedom.
Some women after a sexual assault case decide to be celibate and avoid sex to reclaim their bodies back before venturing again. In your experience working with women across a range of sexual experiences, do you think celibacy is a good tool to combating post traumatic sexual stress habits?
I interviewed over 30 women about their experiences of sex in my book, the Sex Lives of African Women which is forthcoming from Dialogue Books in July 2021. A number of them had for particular periods of their lives practiced celibacy as a way to focus more deeply on themselves and as part of their spiritual practice.
For those women celibacy was helpful. I don’t think however, that I can prescribe celibacy for anyone and I don’t have any medical experience to state categorically whether celibacy is a good tool to combat post traumatic stress.
A lot of the conversation on women’s lives with sex after abuse sadly revolves majorly around heterosexual women’s experiences. How do you think we can include the experiences of queer women who have had traumatic experiences.
Case in point being, lesbians who leave forceful marriages with heterosexual men and the much less talked about experiences of women being raped and abused by other women?
I think we can do this firstly by recognising the huge spectrum of diversity amongst women. In our various countries we need to advocate for an end to harmful colonial and contemporary laws that lead to the discrimination of queer people. If laws don’t protect queer people how can they report violence or access support services?
Seeing as ‘Adventures From’ majorly focuses on African women’s experiences, what are the ways we can push for the reclaiming of female desire using our own heritage as African women?
Like are there traditional rites of passage for women in particular that emphasise on female desires that you know of? Can you kindly share?
Actually, I’m one of those people who believes that pre-colonial Africa was way more accepting of women’s sexuality and desire. We can see this in some of our traditional beliefs and practices. For example, Akan women have every right to end a marriage if their husband is unable to have sex with them. To me, that looks like traditional recognition of the importance of sex.
To wrap up, what do you think about the commonly held belief that rape survivors manifest hyper-sexuality after rape? Do you think it’s misogyny at play or do you think these women are truly trying to reclaim ownership of their bodies?
Hmmm…this isn’t a belief that I’m familiar with. I think peoples actions or reactions after a traumatic experience will vary greatly.
The YNaija #RapeCulture Special Series will run from September 15th to September 30th. Visit YNaija.com/Specials to catch up on all essays and excerpts from our Instagram interviews.