Reflections by Zernila Zaheer (28.11.2023)
The Ghanaian feminist luminary and author of the Sex Lives of African Women Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah delivered a lecture at the University of Bayreuth on 7, November 2023 within the Africa Multiple Cluster of Excellence. Sekyiamah was the guest speaker of the Junior Research Group Intersectionality Lecture Series "African FeminismS Past and Present” where she shared some powerful thoughts unravelling the intricate politics of sex, sexualities, bodies, pleasures of Black women. In her engaging discourse, Sekyiamah delved into the historical portrayal of African women as passive victims of patriarchal structures, with their bodies often stigmatized as sites of illegitimate sexuality and/or symbols of excess. She talked about how African women’s bodies and sexuality have been misjudged and their lived experiences misrepresented. Her reflections on sexuality and societal perceptions are quite thought-provoking and refreshing. Sekyiamah’s ideas went beyond the lecture room, sparking discussions about the importance of recognizing African women's power over their own sexuality. Sekyiamah invited us to revisit existing stereotypes and misconceptions about women’s sexuality. Inspired by her submissions, I pose some questions and highlight the issues that have made me ponder and reconsider our views on sex, pleasure, and women's rights.
For instance, is sex just about submitting your body to a man or should it also be about self-pleasure? This question got me thinking deeply about the traditional beliefs surrounding sex—often seen as mainly for male satisfaction or for reproduction. But what about the idea of self-pleasure, as a practice that challenges the notion of submission and emphasizes the importance of personal gratification and autonomy? Is sexual pleasure not a right of women? This question struck a chord with me, challenging the old belief that women's sexual pleasure isn't as important. It highlights the need for women to seek and experience sexual gratification on their own terms, stressing the importance of their rights in this aspect. And, why is it such a taboo to talk about pleasure, especially in intimate spaces like the bedroom? This question brought up some discomforting truths about society's reluctance to openly discuss sex and sexual pleasure. It made me wonder about the cultural, religious, or social norms that discourage candid conversations about something so natural. Are men treating women's bodies like objects? This question hit hard. It raises concerns about the objectification or exploitation of women, where their bodies might be used solely for men's pleasure, neglecting their role as equal participants in sexual experiences. It's a powerful question about respect and equality. Lastly, the question that struck a personal chord: Am I not worth seeking pleasure in sex? This question delves into feelings of self-worth and validation. It made me reflect on the importance of feeling deserving of pleasure in intimate experiences and how society's norms might sometimes make us question our own values.
These questions touch on societal perceptions deeply rooted in history, challenging us to rethink and reshape our perspectives. The exploration of these questions not only opens doors to understanding sexuality but also raises crucial dialogues about gender roles and societal expectations. They may serve as stepping stones to a more inclusive and empathetic understanding of human experiences in relationships and intimate moments. The exploration of these profound questions resonates deeply with the ongoing discourse surrounding gender, sexuality, and societal norms. The inquiries into the meaning of sex, the right to pleasure, and the existing taboos reflect a critical examination of cultural perceptions and the disparities in sexual experiences in Africa and beyond. The juxtaposition of submitting one's body to a man versus the notion of self-pleasure underscores the historical dichotomy in sexual encounters. It unveils the struggle between traditional roles and individual autonomy in the pursuit of pleasure. The question of whether sexual pleasure is a right of women challenges the longstanding narrative of women's desires being sidelined, emphasizing the fundamental entitlement of women to seek and experience pleasure on their terms. The inquiry into the taboo around discussing pleasure in intimate spaces brings to light the societal discomfort and the barriers to open dialogue regarding sexual enjoyment. This taboo reflects cultural and social norms that often stifle open and honest conversations about sexual gratification. The poignant query about feeling “used like a substance” echoes the pervasive issue of objectification and exploitation in sexual encounters. It confronts the prevalent concern of women being perceived as mere objects for male gratification rather than active, willing participants in the experience. Overall, these questions and the ongoing research underline the necessity to redefine societal perceptions and advocate for the fundamental rights of women in their sexual experiences. It also underscores the importance of varied methods and narratives in communicating these complex and essential concepts effectively to diverse audiences.
Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah stands at the forefront of advocating for gender equality and amplifying African women's voices. Her journey, from co-founding the influential blog, Adventures from the Bedrooms of African Women to wielding her pen in esteemed publications like The Guardian and Open Democracy, reflects her unwavering commitment to reshaping narratives on African women's sexuality. As the Director of Communications at the Association for Women's Rights in Development and through her authored works celebrating women's triumphs, Sekyiamah continues to catalyze crucial conversations, earning global recognition as an inspiring force named in the BBC's 100 Women list, solidifying her status as a transformative figure in the fight for women’s rights and equality. The work of Sekyiamah to conceptualize a method of understanding pleasure demonstrates a proactive approach to bridge the gap between theory and audience engagement. The decision to incorporate stories in her book as well as her lecture is a strategic move to make the subject more accessible and relatable to a broader audience, ensuring a more profound understanding and engagement.
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