Power of the Pum Pum?

*Trigger Warning*
Not so much. Last week women’s organizers in Kenya decided to go on a sex strike to ply their husbands into ending political divisions.
via the Root.

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.

As author Lisa Crooms concludes, if only it were that simple. Rape has consistently been used as a weapon of war in Kenya by British soldiers and gang rape has become commonplace. Despite seeming like a creative organizing effort, the implications are not good.

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.
The proposed sex strike does little to change the way that Kenyan women are viewed and valued in both the public and the private spheres where women are disempowered and largely absent from public positions of power.

I think what it does show is that Kenyan women are acting on the fact that their sexuality is being controlled by state and parochial power, it is just a matter of having the means to organize effectively. It is a sad state of affairs that they are trying to leverage their own bodies and that it is considered laughable since their person hood is not even recognized, let alone their right to consent to sex. Ugh.

Join the Conversation

  • Ann

    Tami has a different take on this — definitely worth reading, too!

  • mahadevine

    In Kenya, 1200 women are raped daily. It’s intense. Check out http://imworthdefending.org/ They’re an amazing organization devoted to teaching self defense in Kenya that I’ve had the privilege of hearing about and working with some what.

  • borrow_tunnel

    Oh I was totally going to say, “Isn’t there an Aristophanes play based on the same idea?”
    Anyway, how are they going to make women abstain from sex who are in sex slavery?

  • Maurecia

    Putting aside the very contentious issues of using women’s bodies as the chosen tool for political power…is a week really that effective? Call me naive, but are men really so reliant on regular sex to keep their libido in check that 7 days without it will incapacitate them enough to spur them into political action? If the men of Kenya were not opposed to rape before, I do not see why this strike would change their minds and keep them from sexual assault again. My interpretation is that the strike is symbolic more than anything; if this effort is the most powerful leverage the women of Kenyan could think to get their message across, they must be facing the most desperate of times.

  • LalaReina

    I agree with the symbolic angle plus it served it’s purpose and gave their concerns attention.

  • saresails

    … I find this incredible, considering that Odinga and Kibaki are now sworn enemies, that a great deal of the political unrest is occuring along ethnic and class lines, and that the coalition government has ceased to exist. This has been going on for over a year, and there is no such thing as a coalition at this point. Odinga has stepped down.
    In a society where women are essentially sex objects, this might be what they view as their most powerful tool.

  • saresails

    They are facing the most desperate of times, and have been for over a year. A nation held up by the AU as a model of stability and prosperity has crumbled to a bog of warfare.
    When human rights are in danger, its the rights of women and children that are the first to go. And of course this gets very little reporting. Sad.


    It is impressive that women in a country as sexist as Kenya have been able to organize a national mass movement. It’s also very impressive that they were able to get international corporate media attention AND to draw attention to the appalling wave of mass rapes during and after the recent civil war by using the sex strike tactic.
    With that said, Kenyan women refusing to have sex with Kenyan men will not have any real impact on stopping the current crisis in that country.
    The root of the strife between the leaders of the Kikuyu, Luo and Kalenjin tribes have deep roots in Kenyan history.
    Basically, when Kenya won it’s political independence from England in 1963, White settlers maintained control of most of Kenya’s good farm land and the tourism industry, and Indian immigrants retained control over the retail sector.
    This meant that only a small piece of the pie was available for Kikuyu, Luo and Kalenjin businesspeople.
    Consequently, there has been many years of civil strife – and in recent times, with the collapse of the world economy and Kenya’s two main industries (tourism and flower exports), that strife has degenerated into a full blown civil war.
    Sex strike or no sex strike, that fundamental economic conflict – and the political conflicts growing out of it – will continue to cause unrest in Kenya.


    Well – a Kenyan man, one James Kimondo, actually filed a lawsuit against the sex strike.
    He claimed that not being able to have sex with his wife for a week caused him “stress, mental anguish, backaches and lack of sleep”
    His lawyer is seeking an undisclosed amount of damages from the G-10, the alliance of Kenyan women’s organizations that organized the sex strike.
    It says volumes about Kenya’s legal system that this guy was even allowed to file this suit.

  • Cali Alena

    The Women’s Environment & Development Organization (WEDO) is an international non-governmental organization based in New York, U.S. that advocates women’s equality in global policy. It was founded in 1990 by Bella Abzug and Mim Kelber to take action in the United Nations and other international policymaking forums. Its early successes included achieving gender equality in the final documents of Agenda 21 and the Rio Declaration. In 2006, the organization was named as an international Champion of the Earth by the United Nations Environment Programme. To read more about this topic, check out at: http://personalmoneystore.com/moneyblog/2009/05/06/kentucky-fried-chicken-coupons-hurt-companys-bottom-line/

  • rosiehope

    This is interesting- similar to the “it’s me or your gun” used by women in South America- Brazil I think.
    The truth is, women have always been at the heart of social change in Kenya.
    Rape is definitely a problem in Kenya. I once had a fight with a Kenyan police officer who thought it was ok for my friend’s husband to rape her and her daughter, and that the real reason she was upset was because she was jealous of her daughter.
    However… there are many women in Kenya who are in control of their own sexuality and many men who will take real notice of the sex ban. The implication that all Kenyan men are rapists is laughably racist.

  • B. Atoureta

    What, exactly, does Mr. Kimondo want the Kenyan courts to do, force his wife to have sex with him? Another Afghani style rape-is-ok-in-marriage law?
    But I digress – I agree with the posters above and below, our bodies are not political tools, and this action merely engenders the idea that they are. If we can refuse sex to elicit political action, then one can force sex to enforce political action – it politicizes the act of sex.
    Anyway, if we refuse to have sex with our husbands it should be for the good old fashioned reasons. We just don’t f*cking feel like it.

  • femmi

    Agreed, all around.
    This method of non violent social movement has been used before, successfully. There is always arguement about using our bodies as political tools, but these arguements come from critics in the first world where we have access to other political tools. When our bodies are all that we have, we need to use them effectively. These women are using their bodies to their advantage. Successful or not, Kenyan women are mobilizing against men and violence- that in itself is amazing.