On Saturday 25 August in Lomé Togo, a group of female civil society activists from the organization Let’s Save Togo or ‘Collectif Sauvons le Togo’ (CST) called on Togolese women to abstain from sex for one week to put pressure on men to take action against President Faure Gnassingbe. The unhappiness with the current president stems from new electoral reforms, which protestors believe will make it more difficult for opposition parties to win seats in the upcoming parliamentary elections in October 2012.
American-educated President Faure Gnassingbe, who came to power in 2005 after the death of his father President Gnassingbe Eyadema, was re-elected in 2010, continuing the family’s 43-year rule. Faure’s coming to power in 2005 was marred with heavy violence in the country. UNHCR estimates that between 400-500 protestors were killed, and that human rights abuse of opposition supporters, mainly the Union of Forces for Change (UFC), was widespread. In comparison, the 2010 elections were relatively calm except for some protest from supporters of the UFC when party leader and presidential candidate Jean-Pierre Fabre claimed victory, despite the counter-claim by the Togolese electoral commission that Gnassingbe had won. Since he has been in power, the tiny country of 7 million has experienced little growth and hovers around the rank of 162 on the Human Development Index.
The “Lysistratic non-action” form of protest, currently being used against the Togolese regime, has short roots in Africa. Most notably, this form of protest was used in Liberia in 2003 by the organization Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace, headed by Leymah Gboweewho. Gboweewho. In her mobilizing speech for the swift disarmament of fighters and for the end of rape women and young girls at the end of the country’s brutal 14 year civil war, she poignantly told the media, “Our bodies are their battlefield.” In 2009, a sex strike was initiated in Kenya by the Women’s Development Organization in an attempt to draw attention to the country’s “bickering leadership,” which threatened to reignite the post-electoral violence that characterized 2008, during which over 1,000 people were killed.
But why a sex strike? In Liberia, where the strikes centered on sexual violence against women, sex had a symbolic appeal as a tool of protest. In Kenya in 2009, supporters of the strike admitted to using sex as their protest weapon because sex gets people to listen and to talk. The issue in Kenya was fighting between the president and the prime minister and a fear that the country would relapse into violence. In Togo, it seems that the use of the sex strike follows the same reasoning as the Kenyan protest. By abstaining from sexual interaction it is their hope to spark widespread media attention and spread the message that CST demands a change of power, rather than being directly related to women’s issues.
However successful the strike is in garnering support for the cause, even the state-owned Liberté media site sees the humor in it.