Sex Boycott and Peace Making in Africa

By Melaku Mulualem K.

This world is rich in resources and also rich in violence and war. The wars can be broadly divided in to two: intrastate war and interstate war.

There are different methods in solving such wars and conflicts. One of the non-violent methods of solving conflicts and wars is "sex boycott".

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In recent times, sex boycott also called sex strike is being implemented in different countries. In this strike, women and girlfriends refrain from having sex with their husband or boyfriend to achieve certain goals.

The concept of sex boycott started in Athens, ancient Greece's play in 411BC. In this play the women of Athens refused to have sex unless their men reach an agreement of a truce with their rivals called Sparta and to end the Peloponnesian War. This play, however, did not remain as a comic performance. Rather sex boycott continued to be one of nonviolent methods in putting pressure on men, who are considered as engine of conflicts and wars.

It is clear that this world is dominated by men. In this world, women parliamentarians cover only 21.8 percent. Out of nearly 200 countries in the world (January 2014 statistics) only 9 women are serving as Heads of State and 15 women are serving as Heads of Government. The rest is "given" to men. This shows that men have great political decision-making powers in the world. These decisions can lead to war or peace.

Sex boycott is one of the strategies of women to force male politicians to resolve conflicts or violence peacefully. This temporary boycotts usually stay for a week or until the issue is resolved. This boycott has been practiced in Africa such as in Kenya (2009), Liberia (2003), and Togo (2012). Women in Togo have called a week-long sex strike to back their call for the resignation of the country's president, Faure Gnassingbé, whose family has been in power for more than 45 years.

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In recent time (October 2014) a group of South Sudanese women peace activists has proposed to have sex boycott until President Salva Kirr and his former deputy, Riek Machar resolve the problem peacefully. Sex boycott is not unique to Africa, rather it has also been implemented in Japan, Colombia, Naples (Italy) and the Philippines.

Recently, in the face of Russia's decision to annex Crimea, Ukrainian females called for a sex boycott on Russians by selling t-shirt with the slogan "Don't give it to a Russian." In September 2006 dozens of wives and girlfriends of gang members from Colombia called a sex strike with a slogan "the strike of crossed legs" to curb gang violence that led to the death of 480 individuals.

In having sex boycott women would like to attract the attention of their citizens and the international community about the grave issue. This boycott also called "bed strike" can be successful or become a failure. But there is no doubt that the strike will attract the attention of the world. It can contribute to peace making in a nation.

There are many implications to sex boycott. One of the implications is that men are sources of conflict and violence, so that they should also seek solution to the problem. The other is that men cannot stay longer without having sex with their wife or girlfriends so that they will be forced to work for solutions for problems. The other implication is men should also be concerned about grave issue just like women.

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Of course many men may respect the boycott and try to seek solutions to the existing problem. Other men may also reject this issue and refuse to accept the boycott. It is also possible to say that there can be many women who do not support the boycott, too. Whatever the case may be, the issue will be a center of discussion in the nation.
In implementing sex boycott there can be various impacts in relationships. One of the impacts is that there can be conflict between husband and wife or among sex partners. The other impact is some men may go to prostitutes for sex. In Kenya's sex boycott there was a comment which says "it will drive married men into the arms of prostitutes". This impact is counterproductive because it may contribute to the spread of HIV/AIDS among the people.

The sex boycott of Kenya has two unique issues. The first one is the joining of Ida Odinga, wife of Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga in the nationwide sex boycott. The second is the promise of the women's organization to pay prostitutes if they join the boycott. This promise implies that men could not go to prostitutes until the boycott is finished.

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Sex boycott has also legal implications. The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in its resolution 48/104 of December 20, 1993. Article two of the declaration establishes marital rape (raping wife) as a human rights violation.

However, out of nearly 200 countries in the world 127 countries do not explicitly criminalize rape within marriage. Most of the countries that did not criminalize it are found in Africa and Asia. In many African countries criminalizing marital rape has remained controversial.

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Many developed countries have legislation about criminalizing the rape of a wife. This is to mean that a wife should be willing to have sex with her own husband. If a husband uses force to have sex with his wife, he will be tried in a court of law. In developed countries husbands also know about the rights of their wife and sex partners and are likely to respect them. But how many African countries have this law? Even in the presence of this law, how many wives in Africa go to court if they are "raped" by their husbands? Will the relationship be normal after going to court? Can this issue lead to divorce? Are governments willing to entertain such issues?

In the case of Kenya, the sex boycott of 2009 was called by the Women's Association. The causes of the call may also vary. For instance, in the case of Japan, sex boycott was called by women in order to influence Yoichi Masuzoe's gubernatorial election. According to the women who instigated the boycott Masuzoe had insulted women saying, "Women are 'not normal' during their periods, and are therefore unfit to govern".

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It was unfortunate that Masuzoe was elected with a big majority because of his unique position on the question of using nuclear power for energy. This shows that not all sex boycotts are successful to force men to do or not to do something. In the case of Kenya and Togo the women who called the sex strike claimed that they were successful in forcing men to come to terms.

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Sex boycott is one of the nonviolent methods of resistance in which married women refrain from having sex with their husband to achieve certain goal. It has a long history, but implemented in few countries in the world. It attracts the attention of citizens and the international community at large. In relative terms African women are exercising this nonviolent method resistance than other continents. In most cases sex boycott is targeted towards peace making in a nation.

Melaku Mulualem is training department head at the Ethiopian International Institute for Peace and Development (EIIPD). 

This article has 2 Comments

  1. An observation, the writer explains that practice of withholding of sex originated in ancient Greece and spoke as if it’s of recent vintage in Africa. I don’t know that either is necessarily true; Ifi Amadiume is at least one scholar who spoke about this among the Nnobi people of the Nigerian Igbo and that that was one of a variety of ways they mediated, pressured their husbands or averted conflict for hundreds of years.

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