LYSISTRATA – African style

A group of Kenyan women, calling themselves the ‘Women’s Development Council’, recently advocated a so-called “sex ban” among its members, urging women not to have sex with their husbands until true reconciliation to the nation’s ethnic crisis was found.

A group of Kenyan women, calling themselves the ‘Women’s Development Council’, recently advocated a so-called “sex ban” among its members, urging women not to have sex with their husbands until true reconciliation to the nation’s ethnic crisis was found.

The call has been gaining momentum and even Mrs. Odinga, the Prime Minister’s wife has joined them and urged others to follow. Before one thinks that this is a new revolutionary idea, one should remember Lysistrata – a play by ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes, which follows a similar plot.

A young lady called Lysistrata urges a boycott of all conjugal duties among Athenian and Spartan women in protest of the perennial warfare that their husbands engage in. It is true that most of the conflict in this world is “man-made” and by that I mean created by males based on male perspectives of honour or dishonour that have to be protected whatever the cost.

Women often see past the petty squabbles of men and see the bigger picture; they see that women on the other side are just as oppressed as they are, and as Congo shows – women are the principle losers of war because rape is now a weapon of war.

Lysistrata is a comedy, so the fear of rape as a result of withholding sex is never fully expressed; it is the withdrawal of affection and cooperation that is the undoing of the men in the end.

In the end both Athenians and Spartans are introduced to a beautiful woman called Reconciliation and they give in, end of story and everybody is happy.

In reality it is different; many African women don’t even know they have the right to say no to sex, and even if they did, they would fear their husband running off to a prostitute or even worse, forcing themselves on them.

So the Kenyan boycott, while commendable in its aims, has other effects of raising awareness of what women go through, particularly the less educated ones who are often poorer than most.

There is a theory that if only this world was ruled by women then it would be more peaceful; we will see whether this is true in the coming years as women take more leading roles in politics.

However when you look at the powerful women who have held office then one can expect more of the same: Margaret Thatcher waged war mercilessly on the Argentines, Golda Meir pre-emptively attacked Egypt and Indira Gandhi twice attacked Pakistan.

Some say that women are just as violent as men but others point to the fact that they ruled in male-dominated worlds and had to act as aggressively as men would.

In Kenya, women have an honourable position in society, and some tribes like the Kikuyu follow matrilineal ancestral lines and trace maternal ancestors instead of men.

I can name most of my male ancestors going back 19 generations but the women who made me are not even a dusty memory; that is the product of history, a history of war.

When we define history, it is often war, battles, kings, politics, and generally male-dominated events but never peace, domesticity, mediation and cooperation.

Most of the worst violence in this world is done with an underlying motive of “protecting women” from other men. The Taliban think they are protecting women by locking them up and denying them rights, like we still do in many aspects of our society particularly in rural areas.

Rwanda is revolutionary with regards to women, with more women MP’s than any other nation on Earth but that fact hides a deeper problem, realities on the ground mean a lot of women cannot take advantage of the opportunities open to women.

Walk into any bar and you see beautiful women for sale; a girl who looks like an Ethiopian princess can cost as little a $2. A question you always want to ask a prostitute is “why?” she most likely wouldn’t have an answer, having never thought of the intricate reasons for her station in life.

It partly has to do with male attitudes and partly due to her own self-image; which shows us that gender-based issues can only be dealt with through dialogue between the sexes.

That is what this sex boycott can teach us; dialogue is preferable to war, and women have seen that they have more in common with fellow women even though men are yet to learn that message.

Sadly, as was the case in Rwanda during the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi, women also took part in the tribal violence after the last election in Kenya. So when we see this problem, we must see it in the context of reconciliation among women who have seen the error of their ways.

It will be harder for the Kenyan men to follow their example because they have divided along tribal blocs; they cannot see the advantages of non-tribalism because it would render them obsolete, like a bull dreads the big feast because he will be eaten.

Lysistrata has a happy ending where war ends and husbands restored to the affections they are used to, but I wonder what the result of the Kenyan version will be. Incidentally I have a question about whether the husbands of the female politicians will also join in sympathy but I doubt they would.