May Day brought with it not only the first whiff of spring but a crop of strikes and protests – the canoodling season and the barricades. The brave decision of Kenya’s women to launch a sex strike – to force the power-sharing combo of Prime Minister Raila Odinga and President Mwai Kibaki to set aside their vicious back-biting in the interests of the country – perfectly captures the conjunction.
Not since Italians downed forks in a strike against the cost of pasta two years ago – crying Not a Penne More! – has protest so captured the imagination of the world.
The sacrifice made by the Italians, moreover, was not negligible by comparison: polls at the time, after all, showed half of them would rather forgo sex than pasta.
Yet, as readers of the original guide to sex strikes – Aristophanes’ comedy Lysistrata, in which the ladies of Athens withhold their favours from their menfolk in protest at the Peloponnesian war of the 5th century BC – will know, there is the issue of strike-breaking.
As one (female) Kenyan columnist put it: “Who is going to police it, and who will be keeping the score?”
She should not despair. In recent years there have been successful sex strikes in Turkey (against inadequate water supply), in Italy (against dangerous fireworks) and Colombia (against gangs; though an attempt to use the tactic against leftwing guerrillas failed).
Tactics are the critical thing. In the Aristophanes original, Lysistrata slyly caught the attention of squabbling Spartan and Athenian ambassadors by parading a sexy young woman named Reconciliation in front of them. Peace terms suddenly become eminently rational and they repair to the Acropolis for celebrations, Reconciliation in tow.
The Kenyan sex strikers’ secret weapon may be the prime minister’s wife Ida Odinga, who has joined the strike. “Great decisions are made during pillow talk,” a strike co-ordinator says. “At that intimate moment [she can ask her] husband: ‘Darling, can you do something for Kenya?’”