Zimbabwean gender activists aren’t the first to apply this approach to solving political discord.
In 2009, women groups in Kenya called for a one-week nationwide sex boycott to force feuding male politicians in the coalition government to resolve their differences. For the campaign’s increased efficacy, Kenyan activists even offered to pay sex workers to suspend their services.
In 2003, the women of Liberia organized a non-violent protest that included a sex boycott. The women’s actions ultimately led to peace, ending a 14-year-old civil war.
In 2006, wives and girlfriends of Colombian drug barons embarked on a sex boycott which became known as the ‘strike of crossed legs’. The movement aimed to end gang- and drug-related killings.
With Zimbabwe’s voter registration closing yesterday, one can’t help but wonder if the country's sex boycott has come to a happy ending. Our correspondent caught up with the woman behind the no-vote-no-sex campaign, MDC minister Priscilla Misihairabwi Mushonga.
By Thabo Kunene, Bulawayo
Over the past couple of weeks, Mushonga has urged women to deny men their conjugal rights as a way offorcing them to register to vote. The controversial but popular Zimbabwean minister for regional integration and international cooperation had called for the sex ban at a campaign rally in Matabeleland province.
RNW spoke with Mushonga, who is also the influential secretary-general of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) faction led by Welshman Ncube, to ask why she called the boycott.
“Our men have failed to play their role to bring about change in the country. It has always been women who have been going to register to vote and we, as women, have decided to take up the challenge to change the political status quo in Zimbabwe,” she said, while leaving a church service in Bulawayo. “We can fight as women, but we also need men on board because they are the missing link in the struggle for change.”
According to Mushonga, women tried their best to reason with men, but they were not listening. This is why they decided to hit them where it hurts most – in the bedroom – by denying them what they love most. And there would have to be proof: no voter registration slip, no sex.
The 49-year-old politician was widowed in 2011 when her husband, a surgeon, died of injuries sustained during a robbery at their house.
Support and severity
Mushonga says her call for a sex boycott in Zimbabwe received widespread support among women. Most of the women who spoke to RNW confirmed this.
Joyse Ncube, a secretary at a local company, noted that men are lazy and don’t want to be part of change. She added that it’s always women who go and register to vote, while men spend their time drinking beer.
Meanwhile, some men had warned Mushonga not to ‘corrupt’ their wives and threatened severe consequences.
“If my wife takes part in this sex strike nonsense, that’s the end of our marriage. I paid lobola so that I can enjoy everything that comes with it including my conjugal rights,” fumed Bekezela Ndlovu, a resident of Magwegwe township in Bulawayo.
A traditional leader in Hwange, 270 kilometres north-west of Bulawayo where the minister called for thes sex boycott, told RNW by phone that he would not respond to any reports from women claiming to have been beaten by their husbands for taking part in the sex strike.
According to former teacher Gilbert Sibanda: “The minister can’t use sex as a weapon to force us to go and vote. Some of us have lost interest in voting because we have failed to remove Robert Mugabe through the ballot box.”
Mushonga told RNW she was inspired by similar boycotts in countries, such as Sierra Leone, Liberia and Kenya.
“People should focus on the message rather than the sex issues. Our message is for change in this country,” she said.
By month’s end it should become clear whether Zimbabwean men – and women – have gotten the message.