Consent is Key: A Module on Violence Against Women

Sex without consent is rape, yet a majority of countries in Europe and Central Asia do not recognise this in law, while harmful misconceptions about rape and gender stereotypes prevent survivors from accessing justice and hamper prevention for rape across the region. To combat this, an Amnesty International online educational module released in November 2020 has helped thousands of learners to understand the obstacles rape survivors face and the importance of consent.

The course, Violence Against Women: Consent is a 15-minute ‘micro-learning’ module on how the issue of sexual violence intersects with human rights. The module, originally released in English and Russian, was developed as part of the regional “Let’s talk about Yes” campaign to promote access to justice for rape, including by calling for consent-based laws on rape in Europe. Violence Against Women: Consent is the third module on the Human Rights Workout platform, with the previous two modules focusing on the right to peaceful protest.

The Human Rights Workout is a unique platform to provide in-depth understanding of rights and the mechanisms around international human rights law teaching through real-life cases from the European Court of Human Rights. It provides learners the personal story of an individual defending their own rights through dynamic and interactive learning elements. This last module on violence against women showcases E.B against Romania. E.B. is a female survivor of rape who was denied protection and access to justice. 

In this module, learners navigate their way through several shocking obstacles rape survivors may encounter in their fight for justice, such as victim blaming, prejudices, and flawed investigations that focus on the perceived lack of resistance of the victim rather than the absence of consent

Stasya Denisova, Human Rights Education Coordinator in Europe and Central Asia.

Together with a unique storytelling approach to teaching human rights, the Workout features many interactive elements including a movable panorama, quizzes and a chat-bot where learners can consult with a human rights lawyer. The bright and eye-catching illustrations for this module are provided by Kyrgyz activist and illustrator, Tatiana Zelenskaya. A summary booklet entitled ‘Know your rights’ is given at the end of the course, providing learners with a quick outline of human rights violated in cases of rape, an introduction to the European Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (the Istanbul Convention), and a guide to how states should define rape in line with international standards.

The target audience for the module is youth throughout Europe and Central Asia. The module saw positive feedback from this group at the learner testing stage, where a demo version was rated 8.4 out of 10.  In particular, learners praised the interactivity, narrative approach and the overall look of the course. Moreover, 86% of users reported that the module had increased their knowledge of how rape relates to the right to freedom from torture and ill-treatment, as well as the key role of consent in rape legislation.  A learner from Kyrgyzstan noted that although the course contains some fairly complex legal concepts, ‘the material is presented in a consistent, accessible way’. Тhe module received an unprecedented amount of attention, with 1,017 people taking the course within a month of release.

A glance at how the module is being used across Europe and Central Asia

In 2019 Ukraine adopted a consent-based definition of rape. But even with the recognition that sex without consent is rape in law, attitudes and misconceptions about rape and gender stereotypes can hamper access to justice and prevention of gender-based violence, including sexual violence.

“A key objective of Amnesty Ukraine is the ratification of the Istanbul Convention.” says Volodymyr Selivanenko, Human Rights Education officer for Amnesty Ukraine. Educational materials such as this online module help to achieve this goal and contribute to creating a consent culture in society as a whole”. Amnesty Ukraine hopes that the module will serve as an additional tool for teachers in schools and universities who, “having passed this course will be able to talk more boldly with students about a consent culture”. Following its release in Ukrainian, teachers in Ukraine have praised the clarity of the course contents – they are easily understood by students.

On the other side of the continent, Amnesty Netherlands used the English language version of the module as part of the online masterclass “Gender & Human Rights: Sexual Consent”. During the two-hour session participants were divided into break-out rooms, given 20 minutes to go through the module, and eventually returned to discuss the issues presented in the module as a group.

When asked why she had chosen to use the module during the masterclass, Annelie Bonnet from Amnesty Netherlands noted that “the module offers the opportunity to present a clear and compelling case study to the students on this topic. In addition, I am personally very pleased with the quality of the module and the different questions posed throughout the module to learn about the topic. It was very effective to use a masterclass to teach about this topic.” Participants comments were striking: a combination of shock about real-life events depicted in the course alongside praise for attractive and engaging visuals.

To mark International Women’s Day on 8th March, three new translations are being released by the Italian, Slovak, and Moldovan sections respectively, meaning that the module will now be available in six languages: English, Russian, Ukrainian, Italian, Slovak and Romanian.

Colleagues from Amnesty Italy praised the module as powerful tool to inspire and mobilise young people and activists, and they intend to integrate it into their national initiatives.

What we appreciated most was the fact that the module is based on a real case, allowing learners to be more empathic with the difficulties experienced by the survivor in her search for justice

Flavia Citton, from Amnesty Italy's education team

The plan is for the module to be used as a new tool to take action in the “Iolochiedo” campaign on consent. In addition, it will be added to the pool of HRE resources already available to educators in Amnesty Italy’s teachers’ guide a resource available for older students. They plan to promote the module to the high schools already engaged in the campaign and to activists working on sexual violence and consent in Italy.

“Discussing violence against women is a big part of our initiative and so we have been working hard to translate the module as quickly as possible”, says Constanta Botnar from Amnesty Moldova. During the pandemic online platforms have been key to delivering education programmes  across the region: “Having an online interactive learning platform is a truly wonderful instrument for delivering courses that may otherwise be inaccessible to those who do not have the opportunity to participate in face-to-face workshops, especially given COVID-19 and its restrictions.” Noting the launch date for the module in Moldova, she added, “Every year on 8th March – International Women’s Day – there are messages of appreciation and solidarity everywhere. This in turn makes 9th March a very sad day for women, when they realize that “their day” has passed but nothing has changed. That is why we decided to focus on one of the biggest problems societies face around the world:  violence against women.”

It is anticipated that in the coming year even more Amnesty sections will translate the module into additional regional languages.