Togo women call sex strike: history suggests it might work

Aug 31, 2012
Anna McKie

Activists calling for end to 'dictatorship' aren't the first to use sex as a political weapon...

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IN AN effort to end decades of oppression in Togo a women's collective, Let's Save Togo, has called on women across the country to enforce a week long sex strike. They hope their actions will undermine the regime of Faure Gnassingbe, who has been president since 2005 and whose family have ruled the country since 1963.

Writing in The Guardian the leaders of the protest said they believed a sex strike was "Togolese women's best weapon against dictatorship".

The Gnassingbe family have been accused of oppression and violence and the activists said they had exhausted "all imaginable peaceful remedies". They say they have called the strike to urge men to remove the unelected president and "awaken the national and international community to our plight".

"Women don’t have a lot of power in Togo, but everybody knows that men rely on us for certain things," said protest organiser Astou Yabi.

It is not the first use of 'Lysistratic non action' – a phrase derived from the Ancient Greek play Lysistrata in which women end a war by witholding sex. Here The Week looks at the effectiveness of some previous efforts.

The group Liberia Mass Action for Peace was the inspiration for the Togolese women. In 2003, sick and tired of 14 years of civil war, Mass Action for Peace organised a series of non-violent protests including a sex strike. The group's leaders, Leymah Gbowee and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf won the Nobel Peace Prize and in 2005 Johnson-Sirleaf became the first woman to be elected as president of an African country.
Result: As part of a series of protests it is difficult to gauge the sex strike's success. However Gbowee admitted that the strike was only "effective in the sense that it got people's attention".

Last year in the Colombian town of Barbacoas, women launched a "crossed legs strike", vowing not to have sex until the men managed to build a road to the provincial capital so that it wouldn't take 10 hours to reach the city just 35 miles away.
Result: After nearly four months the government agreed to build the road, investing millions in the project.

In 2011, after nearly a year of hung parliament, a Belgian senator called on the spouses of all negotiators to withhold sex until a deal was reached. Marleen Temmermanin said: "Have no more sex until the new administration is posing on the steps of the Palace." Senator Temmerman, told the BBC she was inspired by a 2009 campaign in Kenya, when a government was formed after a sex ban that lasted just a week.
Result: A failure. Temmermanin later claimed her comments were "a joke" and Belgium did not swear in a government until nearly a year later.

The village of Dado, Mindanao, was plagued with conflict, family feuds and land disputes for decades. In 2008 a sewing collective of women, fed up with the violence that closed down a main road and prevented them from selling their products, withheld sex from their husbands until they promised to end the fighting.
Result: Within weeks the United Nations reported the village road had re-opened and fighting had stopped.

In 2006 the wives and girlfriends of gang members in the strife-torn city of Pereira, where nearly 500 people had been killed that year, implemented a week-long sex ban. The BBC reported that the women were hoping to show to men that involvement in criminality "was not sexy".
Result: CNN reported that the murder rate dropped by 26.5 per cent.

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