Juuuust as THE ROOT concluded that the Great Kenyan Sex Strike of 2009 was no good, we’re hearing word that, tomorrow, Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Russ Feingold (D-WI) will preside over a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee titled, “Confronting Rape and Other Forms of Violence Against Women in Conflict Zones.” The session focuses specifically on Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), but underscores how pervasive a problem sexual repression and aggression are on the African subcontinent.
Kenya isn’t a conflict zone on par with the war-torn DRC, from where stories of utterly inhumane sexual violence emanate daily—but the convenors of the strike seem to think the beef between Raila Odinga and Mwai Kibaki is enough to recommend their controversial project. It's also caused a bit of a stir, from the take of THE ROOT's own Lisa Crooms to Tamara Winfrey Harris in the GUARDIAN UK, who writes (via FEMINISTING:)
I am uncomfortable with the idea of using sex as a bargaining chip in relationships. It is a manipulation that usually gets assigned to women – treating sex as commodity, withholding it in exchange for goodies. I don't like this antiquated take on female heterosexuality – the idea that men are sexual beings, but sex is something that women "give up" to men (or not, as the case may be).
I don't like the dismissive view of female intelligence and power – the notion that the path to what we want is through our bodies not our brains. And I'd like to think that well-adjusted men aren't so sex-mad that a week of celibacy would drive one to bend to any woman's whims. Withholding sex for punishment or influence seems so antiquated and anti-feminist.
I'm on record at the new DOUBLE X sister site saying I support the strike because of the awareness it raises that hey—SEX IS HAPPENING in Africa. Too often, conservative folks on the subcontinent act like it's not—though population figures certainly give the lie to that. As Rukia Subow, chairwoman of the organization that called for the sexless week, told the British TELEGRAPH: "[Sex] does not know tribe, it does not have a (political) party and it happens in the lowest households."
But when it collides with patriarchal societies and poor protections for vulnerable women and children, it gets ugly. And tomorrow's hearing, convened in conjunction with the ENOUGH project, arrives on the heels of a new study suggesting that the detrimental effects of sexual violence can last for decades after an instance of assault or molestation. Folks expected to testify on this important problem tomorrow include Melanie Verveer of the State Department and John Prendergast, author and co-founder of ENOUGH, which advocates for peaceful end to war in Darfur, as well as activists on the ground in Sudan and the DRC, like Chouchou Namegabe, President and founder of the South Kivu Women’s Media Association.
And she's not on strike.
Covers the White House and Washington for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.