The Complexity of Consent

By: Areeba Tayyab

Recently BBC socials were running an intriguing video regarding workplace harassment in which they were taking opinions and suggestions from young men and women about a very complex case. It seemed as if the girl had given mixed signals but no consent and the boy made his move anyway; ultimately acting impatiently. Now the case was dragged to the court as the girl lost her position at the organization. Apparently, the task done by the very same colleague was all ruined after the girl’s rejection and later submitted to the higher administration resulting in her job loss. What happened a night before was also a shock to all the viewers.

Consent is a very complex phenomenon and unfortunately, even after taking so many years for developing ethics and civilization, we have failed badly to tame down the real “inner animal”. The question arises here that in a country like Pakistan where there is a straight-forward lens for everything and no one bothers to dig into the nuances, how far people will go to understand the reality of such difficult cases? Will, there be scrutiny of consent or the matter again will be justified again by some mumbo jumbo regarding our cultural constraints?

It is fundamental to understand the meaning and complexity of consent because, like any other human emotion, it also has the tendency to fluctuate. Consent, in very simple words, is the permission for something to happen or agreement to do something. Here the word agreement might seem like a lifetime, but the reality is that even in great agreements, there is still room for reconsideration or breaking the deal. What is problematic in many cases is that one party considers a consent to be a complete YES/NO situation, where YES means you probably have won the person’s interest or the person in some context. In the context of our country, where people do not believe in lawsuits, or legality of matters in many cases, a good smile or a good mutual friend is enough to make a deal or at least to think that there is a deal. In Pakistan, the majority of cases dealing with acid burns, cyber harassment and blackmailing deal with the same situation. Most of people believe that once the word OK or YES is uttered, it is the end of the world. Also, the first YES or No is considered to be a matter of life and death for everyone and they cannot accept the “now recently new rejection”.

Moreover, adding on the above-mentioned statement, Silence is also taken a kind of consent in many cases which it is clearly not. In rural areas of Pakistan, the silence is considered consent and when there is no consent, then people are being silenced. It is to be understood that consent needs to be stated clearly at once and better if it is ensured over a certain time period. There exist a presumed or presumptive consent, which is really tough to justify later on.

It is high time that we understand the legality linked with this aspect, otherwise, it will be too late for us again. Consent might not seem to be a great issue but in reality, it is. We see so many scandals of various celebrities and political figures every day, and it is only because we are not well informed in such areas. We are twisting religion, culture and society in order to get the desired results but unfortunately, we end up forcing or abusing/harassing someone. The government and HEC should consider social science and civic rights as an important discipline and must make it a part of all the programs. A healthy civic knowledge will definitely make a better society.

The writer is an Mphil in English Literature and can be reached at [email protected]