Sex! Now that I have your attention, allow me to confront you with this question: what would you give up sex for? And for how long?
A successful sex strike brought peace to a village in the midst of a separatist rebellion. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the modern day Lysistrata unfolded in Dado village on the Filipino island of Mindanao where insurgent violence closed the only road between the village and outside markets. The women of the village, confronted with the prospect of prolonged hunger as fighting raged around them, banded together at their sewing cooperative to withhold sex from their husbands until the violence abated and the road was reopened. The husbands mobilized and negotiated with leaders of the surrounding villages to restore peace and road access to food markets.
This situation brings up interesting implications about the power of sex in peacebuilding. From a conflict resolution standpoint, the strike is a form of resistance and a step in the direction of creating lasting peace. It seems that to the men of Dado village, sex, like power, is most important to those who do not have it. While women are denied political participation, their sex strike rapidly motivated peace talks. Furthermore, the strike not only ended the surrounding conflict, but also energized the village with a sense of empowerment as they can now provide food for themselves rather than depending solely on foreign aid. With the extra money gained from access to the regional market, one woman claims she wants “to help other families who cannot provide for their children.”
However, one irate online commenter on this story laments “the hypocrisy of it all,” suggesting that women “should not be treated like sex objects while we act like one and wield sex as a tool.” This view seems to miss the point entirely. This individual views the sex strike not as a cause for peacebuilding, but as a symptom of patriarchy. “Sex as a tool” implies that the motives are self-centered, or that the women had no other means to call for peace. I feel this makes too much of an effort to paint a picture where the women of Dado village fell victim to their own success, or to suggest that the women should have thought of some “less hypocritical” means to end the violence. But the strike succeeded in more than just stopping the violence—it created the empowerment required to make their village more self-sustaining. This commenter also fails to acknowledge the extraordinary risk the women took, as their refusal of sex could have resulted in forced submission. Where this commenter sees an objectified woman, I see a non-violent resister. Where she sees sex as a tool, I see sex as peacebuilding.
Manipulating sex is not inescapably evil. We see here that it can have beneficial impacts on conflict resolution. Having sex to get what you want can be effective, but so can opting out.