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January 17, 2019

Time for women to use sex strike for change

Wikipedia informs Lysistrata is a comedy by Aristophanes originally performed in Athens in 411 BC. It portrays a comic account of a woman's extraordinary mission to end the Peloponnesian War by denying all the men of the land any sex, which was the only thing they truly and deeply desired.

Lysistrata persuades the women of Greece to withhold sexual privileges from their husbands and lovers as a means of forcing them to negotiate peace — a strategy that inflames the battle between the sexes. The play is notable for being an early exposé of sexual relations in a male-dominated society.

About 1,607 years later, men still truly and deeply desire sex more so than women and most spend their waking time thinking about it, chasing after it or simply bored with it. And that notwithstanding, they still dominate over women in society, no different than in 411 BC, despite the gains in gender equality efforts.

To be sure, the women in Lysistrata couldn’t weather withholding sex any longer in this noble campaign and many became desperate for it that they bailed and sought all manner of excuses to lie in bed naked in the hopes their thirst would be quenched. But it’s one man’s burden (think; this is literature) representing all men that forces peace talks to commence and Lysistrata introduces the Spartan and Athenian delegates to a gorgeous young woman called Reconciliation.

The delegates cannot take their eyes off the young woman; and meanwhile, Lysistrata scolds both sides for past errors of judgment. The delegates briefly squabble over the peace terms; but, with Reconciliation before them and the burden of sexual deprivation still heavy upon them, they quickly overcome their differences and retire to the Acropolis for celebrations. Lysistrata, in other words, succeeded in having women withholding sex from their men to for a social and political good.

And with that, the genesis of sex strikes was born with the tactic surging in popularity in more recent years as a means to achieve political ends. In 2003, for example, Leymah Gbowee organised a well-publicised sex strike to end Liberia’s brutal civil war. Not only did warlords agree to end the violence, Gbowee was later awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts.

Three years later, female partners of gang members in the Colombian city of Pereira withheld sex to demand civilian disarmament and a reduction in violence.  According to the Global Nonviolent Action Database, the strike’s results were clear: Pereira’s murder rate fell by 26.5 per cent by 2010, a huge accomplishment for a city that had a homicide rate twice the national average when the sex strike began.

Kenyan women followed suit in 2009, enforcing a sex ban until political infighting ceased. As it was reported then, women's activist groups slapped their partners with a week-long sex ban in protest over the infighting plaguing the national unity government and the Women's Development Organization coalition also offered to pay prostitutes to join their strike.

The campaigners for this centuries’ old tactic asked the wives of the then Kenyan president and then prime minister to join in the embargo. Within one week, there was a stable government in the country, though skeptics would argue this was inevitable, given concerted efforts from key players, including Kofi Annan, to bring about the gorgeous young woman called Reconciliation.

Although this intimate form of protest has drawn criticism — women shouldn’t have to resort to sex in exchange for power, there’s no denying it has results.

As singer Janelle Monáe put it in calling for a sex strike in the name of women’s rights, “Until every man is fighting for our rights, we should consider stopping having sex.”

It’s a double-edged sword for sure, but Kenyan women should once again seriously think about deploying it to effect social, political and economic change beyond the lip service we’re so accustomed from men hogging power with little to show for it.

Put another way, women in Kenya must do more than they’re doing to bring about change they’re already empowered to accomplish and let it be their own first and true liberation for the sake of self and the country, and seal the deal come 2022.


Omwenga is a legal analyst and political commentator in the United States


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