Why Sex Makes Lousy Diplomacy

Kenyan women are waging a sex strike. Kenyan thugs have used rape as a political weapon. Time to put the pum pum in its place.

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Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

Fed up with the unrest that threatens to throw the country into the kind of violent turmoil that followed the 2007 elections, a group of women in Kenya took matters into their own hands. The Women’s Development Organization spearheaded a weeklong strike in which they called on Kenyan women to withhold sex from their husbands and lovers until they put an end to the political divisions that threaten to destroy the Grand Coalition Government of President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga. The act of conjugal disobedience was straight from the pages of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata. The women involved even paid prostitutes not to ply their trade during the seven-day holdout.

If it worked for Lysistrata in her attempt to harness women’s power to end the Peloponnesian Wars, then why can’t it work elsewhere? All hail the power of pum pum!

If only it were that simple.

At first glance, the Kenyan women’s sex strike seems like a clever political ploy. Like trying to force a junkie to kick his habit, the women involved are supposedly forcing their men to make a hard choice—put an end to the violence or kiss the pum pum goodbye for at least a week.

So far, this abrupt coitus interruptus has resulted in one lawsuit filed against the strike’s organizers by a man whose wife participated in the strike, causing him, he claims, physical injuries and mental anguish.

But this high-profile political demonstration, which ended last Friday, did more to threaten the image of woman Kenyan activists than it did to threaten Kenyan men. This is the country that elevated the cause of environmentalist and human rights activist Professor Wangari Maathai, who, in 2004, became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Does withholding sex really meet the bar Maathai and other women activists set?

Kenya has also been a country in which gang rape has been part of the violence the sex strikers are trying to force their men to end. Add to this politically exacerbated sexual violence, claims of widespread rape of primarily Samburu and Maasai women by British soldiers. Add those who have been raped and sexually assaulted Somali refugees in Kenya, as well as women and men in Kenya’s western Mt. Elgon district near the Ugandan border who have been violated by members of the Sabaot Land Defense Force. Underscoring the widespread link between sex and conflict are the thriving illegal sex trade and its accompanying trafficking of women and girls, the continued refusal to criminalize marital rape, and the sexual abuse, violence, coercion and discrimination that render Kenyan women and girls particularly vulnerable to being infected with HIV/AIDS, and a sex strike seems like a dangerously futile means of coercion.