With civil war raging in South Sudan since 2013, the first thing that springs to mind probably isn’t sex. But it is through sex that a group of female activists are attempting to end the conflict. They are staging a ‘No Sex’ protest; withdrawing any sex or love making from their husbands and partners until the fighting is put to an end. However, this concept is not a new one, in 2012 there were calls in Togo, West Africa, from female civil rights activists to stage a no-sex protest in a bid to remove President Faure Gnassingbe. The Togolese themselves were following the example of Liberian women who staged their own sex strike in order to again peace. Although the idea is not a new one, it is still raising conflicting views today.
Positive move for feminism
The fact that these women are using their initiative in an attempt to change their country and fight the tide of patriarchy is a major positive for feminism. However, I cannot help but be concerned that the only way these women feel able to have any kind of power over the men in their lives is through sex. It is degrading. It undermines not only female intelligence, but also male intelligence. This is not to condemn what these women are doing or to diminish the strength it takes for them to stand up and fight for what they believe is right. But I wish to point out that this form of protest shows that there is a terrifyingly long way to go for any kind of equal or democratic rights to be formed if this is the only way women can evoke change in non-Western countries.
There are also other, more physical, concerns voiced over the proposed sex strike. To withhold sexual relations from their husbands could put these women in danger physically. In a society where men are still the head of the household and are most likely to be the ones who dictate sexual matters, the risk these women are taking is very real. In regards to the Togolese case, this is a view that has been vocalised by Ekoue Blame who said in the Guardian:
“Do [sic] [they think] women who live with their husband will be able to observe that? By the way, who controls what couples do behind closed doors?”
Sex is not the only solution
In South Sudan the idea was proposed at a meeting of around 90 women, at which other ideas and plans were brought to fruition; one of which was to hold talks with the rival leaders’ wives. So, sex is not their only solution, but should it be considered as one at all? A US activist, Jane Kane, is wary whether it will even work at all, and advocates more traditional forms of civil rights protest such as sit-ins.
Placing such a high regard on sexual relations could prove to be damaging to women when peace is achieved, that is in regards to their rights. I would not say they are degrading themselves because it takes a lot of strength to be so pro-active, but I do feel it promotes a dangerous male/female dynamic and adheres to the patriarchy too much. Clearly, feminism is not the core issue for these women, who are just seeking peace. But it is all part of a similar process of working towards peace, democracy and equality. Women shouldn’t have to put themselves in harms way to have their voices heard or to call for peace. But in a country of male dominance, and a world of war, these women believe that this is their only choice. Surely this shows that now more than ever, it’s about time we sat up and listened to the women of the world.
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