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Consent, consent, consent! It’s a word and an issue we are all aware of but unfortunately we haven’t quite conquered the problems surrounding it. For me and many people, it wasn’t something we were taught about in school, it wasn’t even a topic that came up within our own private conversations. I grew up being told by society that how I dressed, how I acted, and how much I drank on a night out meant more than my consent. Victim blaming is still a part of our patriarchal society and enough is enough. The 5th year students of Eureka Secondary School Kells have been working tirelessly to end the stigma around consent and to break down rape culture. Their campaign is called ‘It’s the Yes, Not the Dress’. Last Thursday the girls had a poster launch and I was in touch with them following the event.

Ella is one of the students involved in the project and she explained that the success of the first poster launch last year encouraged the girls to carry on spreading awareness. The first poster showed a woman wearing heels and a skirt, Ella says “Our message aimed to show that rape is rape no matter what someone is wearing. Just because someone wears something revealing, does not mean you are entitled to sex”. Rape is never the victims fault and educating people on rape culture, victim blaming and cat-calling is key in breaking down the stigma. The campaign also involves sexual consent workshops which have been running since January this year in secondary schools and colleges around Ireland. Although these conversations and topics may not always be easy to discuss, it’s so important that we have them.

The second launch consisted of four new posters which focused on the LGBTQ+ community, relationships, alcohol and gender. The aim of which was to show that “consent is always necessary regardless of sexuality, relationship status, gender and alcohol consumption”. The campaign is positive and I welcome the change it is working so hard to create. We need to stop telling our young girls what to wear and how to act for fear of getting raped and we need to tell our young boys that it doesn’t matter how someone is dressed, they are allowed to say no. The focus on the LGBTQ+ community is welcomed- not everyone identifies as male or female; not everyone who is raped is female and not everyone who rapes is male. To end rape culture and stigma we must all work together.

The campaign has had great success so far, they have spoken on RTÉ News, Newstalk and TV3. They were the only school in Ireland to be invited to Government Buildings to launch the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre’s #AskConsent campaign on International Women’s day. They have come so far after only setting up in 2015, but it shows a dedication to change and incredible passion by everyone involved. The future of the campaign is very bright with the launch of an ‘It’s the Yes, Not the Dress’ website, which will be up and running soon. It will function as an educational tool for students around Ireland. The girls have also been asked to speak at Zeminar, Irelands largest youth summit, in October. You can keep up with the campaign and their progress by following them on twitter: @yesnotthedress

What these young women have achieved in such a short time is not only incredible but inspirational for us all. I always advocate for women’s voices and the importance of speaking up for yourself even when you think no one is listening. Grassroots projects like this show us how influential we can be once we believe in our own abilities. Education and conversations around consent are invaluable to us and the message is simple- ‘sex without consent is rape’.  Speak up and out, together we can generate the change necessary.