Kenya: Was the women’s sex strike a success?

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Wednesday 29 April, ten women’s organisations called on Kenyan women to forsake the pleasures of the flesh in order to push the government to accelerate reforms. Result: albeit the effectiveness of the boycott among the ruling classes, ordinary Kenyans have widely criticised the move…

Sex strikers have resumed their normal activities. April 29, ten Kenyan women’s associations invited women to abstain from sex in order to end continuous disputes between President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, in a coalition government charged with initiating long lasting reforms. This process is essential to prevent the country from another unrest as witnessed following the December 2007 presidential elections, which saw at least 1 000 dead and tens of thousands displaced.

A group named G10 has confirmed that results from the week without sex has so far been positive. “It has worked! Though we are calling it off today (Wednesday) the message is heard. The issue was putting pressure, it is confirmed that the two Principlas (President and PM) are working together and we will get reforms,” welcomed Rukia Subow, chair of Maendeleo Ya Wanawake Organization (MYWO), the oldest women’s association of Kenya.

Government under high surveillance

Earlier on, the Minister of Energy indicated that Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga had met with key ministers. According to Kiraitu Murungi a decision has been made to speed up constitutional reforms and the reforms on justice and police. “I hope the women of Kenya will not resume the boycott”, he said.

Risk averted: the G10 is not planning another sex strike. However, there will be a close surveillance in the next 90 days, to ensure that promises made are kept and citizens made aware of the developments. So what if nothing happens? What if the disputes return? Rukia Subow does not think so. “The leaders have met and they are talking, we see a light at the end of the tunnel,” she tells

Lucy Kibaki and Ida Odinga on strike

Agnes Leina, programme officer for the Coalition On Violence Against Women (COVAW) that supported the strike, tells that the resolution of some issues should be made a priority: “The strike was not about sex. It was rather about governance issues and the anger of Kenyans. There is a severe drought at the moment. There is not enough to eat and food prices are very high, and women and children are among the first to be affected.”

About the post-election violence that rocked Kenya, Agnes Leina says that the scars are still visible: “Many still live in IDP camps. They are in dire need of food and shelter and are calling on their leaders to come to their aid.” She stresses that the instability in Kenya “affects the poor and children, who have nobody to speak for them. Hence, the strike.”

It was a highly publicized strike not only in Kenya, but also the rest of the world, which attracted imminent personalities like Ida Odinga, wife of Raila Odinga, Kenyan Prime Minister. Rukia Subow believes that although Mrs. Odinga is the only public figure to have openly supported their cause, many other women in the government “supported us”. The National Chairman of MYWO is “confident that Lucy Kibaki,” took part in the boycott because she is very concerned about “gender-related issues.” Mrs. Subow also reiterated that “the strike had nothing to do with sex” but rather exerting “pressure on the government”.

“The Bible tells women to be submissive”

Notwithstanding its apparent success, the sex strike was considered as being very controversial among some ordinary Kenyans. Some organizations and clergy, among others, have also shared their concerns. The women “are trying to use sex as a tool to molest men in the society,” said Nderitu Njoka, Chairman and founder of a male lobby group, Maendeleo Ya wanaume, Capital News reported.

21 year-old Gabriela Juma from the Kibera slum (Africa’s largest slum) does not disagree with the male lobbyists. “It’s stupid and selfish. As a wife, refusing sex is tantamount to infringing on the husband’s rights,” she told La Press, a Canadian news agency.

“We know of a lot of men” continued Nderitu Njoka, “who have been denied their conjugal rights for a long time now. So, whatever these women are saying is nothing new to us. It is only that they are going public.”

In an interview with the Kenyan daily The Nation, Nderitu Njoka went further. He denounced the strike saying that sex is “against the Bible, which requires women to submit to their husbands.” He also urged the G10 to find another alternative, fearing that the boycott could become the root cause of problems among couples.

A blessing for prostitutes

That is another issue of concern raised by other Kenyans, men and women, interviewed by Capital News. According to a woman who pleaded anonymity, “It will definitely promote immorality. When you are not getting it in the house, you are going to get it somewhere else and there are always people out there waiting for that opportunity. It will not work.” She was undoubtly referring to prostitutes. But the G10 had considered compensating the ladies of the night to prevent men from seeking their services during the strike week. The idea was, however, scrapped before the strike began.

Rukia Subow says that the group did not have the financial “means”, although the G10 appealed to sex workers, through the media, to take part in the movement. According to Mrs. Subow, they did not force the women to take part in the strike because sex trade is their occupation.

Agnes Leina from the Coalition on Violence against women confirms the sex workers claimed the strike was good for their business. “They only saw the commercial side of things, although they also suffer from same issues we are fighting against … ”

If it’s no, it is yes

In the final analysis, it is unclear whether the boycott had a large following. Despite the fact that some Kenyan women wanted to join the strike, they did not because there was too much risk involved. During his crusade while calling on all and sundry to consider the sexual misery of some men, Nderitu Njoka failed to mention the violence some women are subjected to in their marriages or relationships.

Agnes Leina reports that “no cases of sexual abuse” were reported, whilst Rukia Subow confirms that her group was not informed of beatings, harassment or women leaving their homes. But this might be because the men who feel prejudiced prefer channelling their grievances through the proper institutions. Just like James Kimondo, who could not take it any longer and vented his spleen on the G10 after his wife rebuffed his sexual advances for seven days.

James Kimondo has filed a lawsuit in the High Court against four leaders of G10, including Rukia Subow. He hopes to be compensated for the evils the boycott has caused him: anxiety, stress, back pains, lack of sleep, lack of concentration…

Also read: Of African women, Greeks, the art of sex and politics

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