The women of Barbacoas, Colombia have launched a sex strike in their town in an effort to get the inadequate — and dangerous — road that links the town to the main province paved. For over a month now, the women have withheld all sexual activity in a protest that has been coined the “crossed leg movement.”
While it may seem that road construction might not be of immediate concern to some, it turns out that the unpaved road has become a dangerous hazard for the community for a variety of reasons. For one, the town is in a volatile area of the country that is affected by ongoing guerrilla and paramilitary attacks. Without a safe and direct route out of the town, the entire community suffers. In addition, because of the unpaved road the cost of food is five or six times that of other areas of the country.
The unpaved road has also led to many deaths. Often times in emergencies, ambulances get stuck in the mud and are unable to reach people in time. Judge Marybell Silva, a spokesperson for the movement, has experienced this reality first hand. “I personally had to see a 23-year-old pregnant woman die along with her unborn baby just because the ambulance got stuck on the road and could not reach [the capital of the region]. That’s when I knew we had to do something.”
A Human Rights Issue
For the women of Barbacoas, the unpaved road is not simply a matter of road construction; it is a matter of their human rights.
“We are being deprived of our most human rights and as women we can’t allow that to happen,” says Ruby Quinonez, one of the leaders of the movement. “Why bring children into this world when they can just die without medical attention and we can’t even offer them the most basic rights? We decided to stop having sex and stop having children until the state fulfills its previous promises.”
Withholding sex for these women is about more than a paved road. It’s about access to medical care; it’s about being able to feed your family; it’s about protecting the town’s future children; it’s about creating a safe and fruitful place for the people to live.
Withholding Sex Not a New Concept
In a Guardian article about the Barbacoas sex strike, the headline says the “crossed leg” protest is “redefining women’s activism” and that the women are “riding a wave of redefinition of what it means to be a feminist in modern times.” But the political tactic of women withholding sex as a means to achieving an end is actually not a new concept. In fact, the concept goes all the way back to ancient Greece with Aristophanes’ comic play “Lysistrata” in which women withhold sex in an effort to end the Peloponnesian War.
The “Lysistrata” effect was even used this year back in March in an effort to garner support for Planned Parenthood. In a video, called “For Those With Vaginas,” women call on their peers to withhold sex from men who do not support funding for Planned Parenthood.
In an interesting twist, the Movember campaign used the “Lysistrata” effect this year in the opposite way. A video in support of the campaign calls on women to have sex with men who grow a mustache in support of prostate cancer.
Whether it is withholding sex or encouraging sex, is it effective to link women’s sexuality to activism?
Withholding Sex as a Means of Activism
Under the banner “No more sex. We want our road.” the women of Barbacoas are working towards a goal that in the end will benefit the entire community. However, is withholding sex an effective means of activism?
To me the notion of a sex strike reinforces gender stereotypes that I would have hoped we have moved far past. A sex strike implies that men are horny, sex driven animals who are unable to go without sex. The hope is that men will crack without sex and answer women’s demands, whatever they may be. Why does sex have to be the vehicle to achieve a goal that will in the end benefit not just the women in the community, but everyone?
On the flip side, I have to admit that I might not even be writing about this problem had there not been a sex strike that made the news. Let’s face it, sex grabs headlines and the more press a cause gets the better. Maybe articles like this one will help the women in their plight. I certainly hope so.
What do you think? Will the sex strike in Colombia work? Is withholding sex an effective means of activism?
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Photo credit: Photo by Hiyori13 used under a Creative Commons license.
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