Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 33, December 2013

'She grows to be just a woman, not a leader.'[1]
Gendered Citizenship and the 2007 General Election in Kenya[2]

Christina Kenny
  1. On 29 April 2009, almost eighteen months after the December 2007 General Election and the subsequent post-election violence which engulfed the nation, a coalition of women's interest groups known as the G10 held a press conference in Nairobi. The women declared a seven-day sex boycott, 'in a bid to oblige President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga to settle their differences once and for all and begin to serve the nation they represent.' The coalition stated they were driven by the 'vision of a society where women wield political power.' Their mission was 'to connect women's voices and action to leverage an expanded and redefined political space.'[3]
  2. The Prime Minister's wife, Ida Odinga, was publically supportive, explaining that 'this should not be seen as a punishment to men, it is a measure that is aimed at drawing their attention to the real issues.'[4] Then Executive Director of the Federation of Women Lawyers Kenya (FIDA-Kenya) and member of the G10, Patricia Nyaundi, implored the public, 'Let people not end up trivialising this issue…. The idea is to deny ourselves what we consider essential for the good of the country.'[5] Reflecting the availability of sex for many men in Kenya, the Coalition also offered to pay prostitutes to participate in the strike.[6]
  3. This paper explores the events leading up to the sex strike and the ways in which the strike highlights the culturally and politically restrictive conceptions of gender which inform public life in post-colonial Kenya. By examining the G10 press release more closely, I submit that it is a conscious reframing of women's relationship with government. Specifically, the statement is an attempt to redefine, not only the public space of Kenyan democracy, but also to refigure the substance of the Kenyan legal or public subject as a gendered, sexed subject. The apparent lack of support for the strike highlights the barriers in attempts to, in Sally Engle Merry's framing, locally appropriate the global idea of women's human rights.[7] The strike is also an instructive example of the ways politics, gender and sexuality are knotted together in post-colonial Kenya—as Lynne Thomas observes, 'Few participants in twentieth-century Kenyan politics were ever able to separate issues of land, labor, and political control from those of gender, sexuality, and reproduction.'[8]
  4. The notion of a sex strike is not derived from local cultural norms but is rather an instantiation of the culture of transnational modernity. That is, the assumption of bodily autonomy inherent in the announcement of the strike is grounded in a 'modernist [conception] of the person.'[9] The idea of the autonomous self is central to human rights law and ideas which, as Sally Engle Merry explains, '[emphasize] equality and security of the body. They grow out of a vision of the good and just society that emphasizes autonomy, choice, equality, secularism, and protection of the body.'[10]
  5. Of course, the extent to which the G10's sex boycott was enacted or even philosophically supported by Kenyan women is difficult to ascertain, although amongst the women I have interviewed there continues to be heated debate around the issue of 'conjugal rights.' As Merry's work in Asia and the Pacific elucidates, many Kenyan women's conceptions of female bodies and identities conflict with the autonomous self of transnational rights discourse.[11] The transnational human rights culture which underpins such a sex boycott, with its explicit politicisation of access to (heterosexual) sex did not resonate with local Kenyan women.[12] For, as Merry observes, 'Seeing oneself as a rights-bearing subject whose problems are violations of these rights is far from universal.'[13] Many Kenyan women continue to believe husbands have a right to sex within marriage, or at least, that he will coercively or violently exercise his right, regardless of her view.[14] In interviews I conducted with Kenyan women in poor urban areas, and in several rural areas, the issue of men's access to sex, and the notion of 'conjugal rights' was contentious in all locations. Many women thought that women should be able to choose when they have sex, but felt that practically this was often impossible.

    Gender as an organisational category
  6. The category of gender has been a central component in generating and organising personal, cultural and political identities in Kenya since the pre-colonial period. Paradoxically, in their analysis of pre-colonial cultural and political power structures, Shadrack Nasong'o and Godwin Murunga contend that the very tasks and roles to which Kenyan women have traditionally been assigned, the strictures of which have continued to significantly limit women's participation in contemporary public life in Kenya, are also the roles which, historically, elevated women in their communities. Although women's rights were limited to 'mothers, co-wives, daughters, aunts, political leaders, as well as members of the extended lineage,' they enjoyed respect and dignity and a 'certain amount of social control.' Further, women's roles included, 'food producers and distributors, reproducers, guardians of the hearth, fire, water and land as well as healers, creators and disseminators of indigenous knowledge.'[15]
  7. This preoccupation with gender and reproduction is mirrored (and reinforced) by the colonial regime. Lynne Thomas argues that the concern of the coloniser with African sexual behaviour, population health and fertility rates, was driven by the colonial state's desire to maintain racial, cultural and sexual boundaries.[16]
  8. While it is important to recognise the relevance of these roles and responsibilities, and to understand the complexities of communal life, lauding the purely relational nature of women's identities is problematic. Gender can be conceptualised as both a socially constructed reality, and an institution whose maintenance and practice manifests in personal identities and interactions. This reality 'establishes patterns of expectations for individuals, orders the social processes of everyday life and is built into the major organisation of society.'[17] Nasong'o and Murunga describe this as a 'sexual dualism,' which reflected a male domination of the ideological structure, but also allowed for, 'flexibility and balance in the sexual division of labour [where] women had areas of social life in which they predominated.'[18] While women did derive some advantages, the emphasis Nasong'o and Muranga's place on these gender identities as evidence of empowerment, reinvigorates rigid gender categories and limits opportunities to expand the cultural and political spaces women can occupy.
  9. Deriving all their political capital from their roles as producers of children and food; and protectors of the home and hearth, restricts space for other identities to emerge—particularly contested or taboo identities which also existed in this pre-colonial period—including sexual minorities, unmarried women and women who did not, or could not have children.
  10. Thomas' conception of an 'ideology of gender asymmetry' is more useful here as it expresses the inequities in power distribution, while acknowledging the areas where this system privileged female knowledge. As Thomas explains, 'women in early-twentieth century central Kenya were not the political equals of men. Rather, women's power was grounded in difference: reproductive difference.'[19]
  11. While their reproductive capacity did accord women some socio-political advantages in their communities, the introduction and proliferation of wage labour for men, and their new roles in colonial political leadership as assistants to local officials and headmen increasingly subordinated women to men.[20] Even women's substantial contributions during the Mau Mau uprising, including the legendary activism of Me Katilili and Mary Muthoni Nyanjeru did not guarantee them an equal place at the Lancaster Conference, where only one of the more than seventy delegates was a woman.[21]
  12. This systemic disenfranchisement continued in the post-colonial period. Following independence, Kenya endured a highly repressive and autocratic political system which manifested in extrajudicial killing and detentions without trial, corruption, and the deterioration of social services and their delivery systems.[22] In spite of these barriers Kenyan women have organised to protect themselves and their communities throughout the colonial and post-colonial periods.[23]
  13. In the 1970s, women's organisations mobilised to protect women against the effects of the Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPS) prescribed by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank as the panacea for Kenyan (and African) underdevelopment and poor governance. Maria Nzomo argues the implementation of SAPS 'largely depended on patriarchal social relations at household, community, national and global levels, which have supported the entire structural adjustment process and at the same time have created and/or strengthened patriarchal social relations.'[24] Women's organisations were also caught up in the broader state crackdown on civic associations seeking to involve themselves in political activities.[25] Under first Kenyatta, and then Moi, the government 'controlled political dissent and [repressed] social, economic and political demands for popular participation until 1990.'[26] Nzomo continues, 'women [not only bore] the greatest social costs of bad governance; they have largely been excluded from formal politics and centres of decision-making.'[27]
  14. The return to political pluralism in the early 1990s in Kenya created the public space for a more radical, activist women's movement to emerge. This new movement explicitly sought to expand the public space available to women, affect policy and legislative reform, and to draw attention to gender-based discrimination and women's rights. Nzomo explains, women sought to create 'an environment conducive to women's participation in public life on an equal basis with men [and] to shape the democratic agenda in a gender-empowering way.'[28]
  15. The momentum of the early nineties facilitated the election of six women to Parliament, although many women were intimidated into withdrawing their candidature, and some were physically and/or sexually assaulted as a result of their participation.[29] In an interview dealing with the treatment of women vying for office in Kenya following the 2007 elections Jael Mbogo, a Kenyan parliamentary candidate and political activist explained:

      women do not organize thugs to fight for them [as many politicians do] so they always end up as victims. There is also the threat of being raped, which is dreadful…the culture of violence, the culture of money, corruption during elections, and vote rigging, all those should be stamped out. In the last general elections [in 2002], altogether we had 47 women candidates. Of those three had to drop out. One was rescued from death. One was kidnapped.[30]

  16. This targeting of female candidates was also a feature of the 2007 pre-election period.[31] Women candidates were attacked and beaten, others were threatened with physical and sexual violence, and their rallies aggressively disrupted. One candidate was reportedly shot dead.[32] In an interview with Kathambi Kinoti, Wangari Kinoti from the Education Centre for Women in Democracy reported an unprecedented upsurge in violence against female candidates for political office. Wangari Kinoti explains the patriarchal view that women should not hold public office, combined with a violent political culture, 'translate into violent opposition to women's leadership. There is also the factor that women have become a real threat to reckon with and therefore all means of intimidation are used against them.'[33]

    The 2007 General Election and the post-election period
  17. Polling day was generally peaceful, but a significant delay in announcing the successful presidential candidate raised doubts about the overall conduct of the election. The report by the Kriegler Commission investigating the post-election violence subsequently found that electoral fraud had saturated every element of the voting process. The malfeasance was so great, it was 'impossible to reconstruct from the formal record who in fact won the presidential contest.'[34]
  18. In spite of growing concerns by international and domestic observers, and obvious inconsistencies in local and central electoral records, the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) announced that the incumbent Mwai Kibaki (Party of National Unity, PNU) had won the presidential race by a mere 230, 000 votes of a total of more than ten million cast.[35] Although opposition candidate Raila Odinga rejected the result outright, 'celebrations began in Central Province, Kibaki's stronghold. The rest of the country—with the exception of Eastern Province, home to the third but insignificant presidential candidate, and North East Province—erupted in rage.'[36] Then chair of the ECK, Samuel Kivuitu has since stated that he made the announcement of Kibaki's win 'under pressure.'[37]
  19. Days later, Kibaki announced his new cabinet—a decision considered by the opposition to be inflammatory as the election results were still in dispute. Riots erupted across the country, dominated by violence targeting Kikuyus who were thought to have benefitted from the fraudulent result.[38] The Kenya Police Force and the General Service Unit, a national government paramilitary force, were deployed throughout Nairobi. Police engaged in extrajudicial executions, and fired tear gas and live rounds into unarmed protestors.[39] Bans were imposed on live broadcasting and public demonstrations. Shops and residences in areas supporting the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) were burnt and looted. Nairobi Women's Hospital reported their sexual violence case load had tripled.[40]
  20. Although some women came to hospitals and support services for assistance and treatment most victims, living in slums and Internally Displaced PErsons (IDP) camps, did not seek medical attention or report the incidents to authorities 'due to security reasons or fear of stigmatisation.'[41] The Nairobi Women's hospital in collaboration with the Psychological Association of Kenya opened counselling centres in the slum areas of Mathare, Huruma and Kibera, the areas worst affected by violence in the capital.[42]
  21. Fleeing violence in their home areas, women were also at risk of assault after reaching the Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps set up to deal with more than 250,000 displaced people.[43] Makeshift sleeping arrangements where men and women slept in the same tent, or out in the open; as well as a lack of basic infrastructure such as lighting, water and sanitation facilities and the availability of firewood exacerbated women's vulnerability to sexual victimisation.[44]
  22. Significantly, sexual violence not only occurred as an opportunistic by-product of the collapse in social order during the post-election period, women also reported it was being used as a tool to 'terrorise individuals and families and precipitate their expulsion from the communities in which they live.'[45] Sexual violence was also reported against men—Lou men, who traditionally do not circumcise, were forcibly circumcised and in some cases castrated during this period, although there continues to be debate around the motivation and agents of these acts.[46]
  23. Kofi Annan was invited by the African Union to lead a panel of Eminent African Personalities with Condolezza Rice and African Union chairman and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete to help negotiate a power-sharing deal between Odgina and Kibaki.[47] Subsequently, President Kibaki announced a new cabinet to cement a power-sharing deal with Odinga as Prime Minister.[48] Cabinet positions were divided equally[49] between ODM (Odinga) and the Party of National Unity (PNU) (Kibaki) and the parliament would work on framing a new constitution and 'tackle long-standing grievances over land, wealth and power.'[50] In spite of an agreement signed in February[51] power-sharing talks were suspended in April and violent clashes resumed, particularly between rival ethnic groups. By mid-April, however, the Grand Coalition Government was sworn in, and by 24 April 2008, Kibaki and Odinga were touring Rift Valley 'trouble spots' together.[52]
  24. A year later, the constitutional reform process had stalled, crippled by 'lingering tensions, petty disputes and individual appetite,'[53] and in May 2009, after months of uncertainty, the G10 announced a sex boycott, to demonstrate their dissatisfaction 'with the persistent failure of Kenya's leadership.'[54]

    The 2009 sex boycott
  25. Within Kenya, media commentary on the announcement of the sex boycott was sparse. Coverage focused on the perceived unfairness of the ban and its impact on ordinary Kenyan men. One such Kenyan man told KTN, a Nairobi television station, rather defiantly 'seven days is nothing…I can wait a year.'[55] While the Nigerian newspaper, This Day, quoted a vox pop interview with a Kenyan man who complained '[the boycott] will accomplish nothing other than embarrass us …we are being punished, and yet we are not the ones causing problems …seven days is just too much.'[56] The message of the boycott was lost in the outcry over the threatened unavailability of women's bodies. Although the boycott received some coverage, it was easier, and more salacious to report men's outcry, rather than use the announcement to analyse the progress of the coalition government toward their promised reforms.
  26. The chairperson of the Bungoma branch of the Kenyan men's organisation, Maendeleo ya Wanaume announced a 30-day sex boycott by men, 'in protest against the recent action by the G10 women's movement that forced women to go on a one-week sex boycott owing to the slow pace of reforms by the coalition government and rampant corruption in the country.'[57] One man announced he was planning to sue the women leaders of the G10 for damages he sustained during the ban. James Kimondo claimed he suffered 'anxiety and sleepless nights …mental anguish, stress, back aches and lack of concentration' because his wife 'denied [him his] conjugal rights' during the ban.[58]
  27. Where it was reported by international media, commentators were troubled. Writing for the Guardian Newspaper in the UK, Tara Winfrey Harris described the announcement as an 'antiquated take on female heterosexuality,' which promoted a 'dismissive view of female intelligence and power,' and noted that, 'withholding sex as punishment or [for] influence seems so antiquated and anti-feminist.'[59]
  28. As is the trope with sex strike reportage internationally,[60] media reporting on the sex boycott in Kenya linked the G10 announcement to the classical Greek comedy, Lysistrata by the playwright Aristophanes, in which the women of Sparta and Athens instigate a sex ban as part of a plan to lobby for an end to the Peloponnesian war. For instance, an article titled, 'Lysistrata – African Style' in the Rwandan newspaper, New Times,[61] observed that while the overarching theme is similar, 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 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.[62]

  29. In the Kenyan context, at the announcement of the boycott, marriage remained an exception to rape in the Kenyan Sexual Offences Act.[63] In the lead up to the 2007 election, women running for public office experienced high levels of violence and harassment; and, as discussed above, the 2008 post-election violence which targeted women occurred, not only as a by-product of the collapse in social order but, 'as a tool to "terrorise individuals and families."'[64]
  30. Although an unorthodox pairing, a critique by Sarah Culpepper Stroup of the portrayal of the women in Lysistrata provides an interesting analytical frame through which to examine the motivations and goals of the G10 sex boycott. Culpepper Stroup describes the play as 'a comedy of political and sexual negotiation and of what happens when complimentary but distinct spheres of social interaction—the polis and the oikos, the public and private—are torn apart and inside out—by protracted and seemingly ineluctable warfare.'[65]
  31. The subtle shift in roles and identities experienced by the women in Lysistrata, mirror those of contemporary Kenyan women in public spaces. As Kenyan women fight for recognition of their citizenship and their rights—in announcing the sex strike, running for elective office, or fleeing post-election violence—they challenge the boundaries of the culturally accepted roles women occupy. Although the entry of women into public space is contested, and often violently resisted, their messages are frequently of peace, and good governance.
  32. Peace is also the primary motivator in Lysistrata. Culpepper Stroup argues the success of the women's plan, including the implementation of the sex strike as a 'politically ameliorative force,' reversing the more traditional 'comic representation of female sexuality as implicitly destructive to the civic body.'[66] In the opening scene, the women of Athens and Sparta meet to hear Lysitrata's solution to the Peloponnesian War. Having been convinced that swearing an oath of celibacy for the remainder of the war, the scene in which the women come together to enact the sex strike, makes much of these previously, good, chaste wives talking in great detail about all the sexual favours they will refuse to perform, while walking around the house in alluring clothes.[67] But the more serious point here is Culpepper Stroup's observation that, 'a woman acting outside of the confines of normal domestic activity (as defined by, but not limited to the confines of the oikos or home, itself) was, by definition, a woman displaced in terms of her civic or sexual identity and thus indicative of a fault line in male activity.'[68]
  33. Similarly, Kenyan women who occupy public spaces, (and in this instance withhold sex for the good of their country) are characterised as masculine and aggressive. The imposition of these cultural norms excludes many women from positions of leadership and strictly regulates their behaviour in public spaces. Women who achieve elective office before they are married, rarely find partners, 'the general perception is that they are 'acting manly'; they are unconventionally tough and rude,…[and that they are] feminists who cannot stay at home and cook and are hence unfit for marriage.'[69]
  34. In the disordered world of Lysistrata, peace can only be restored once the wives return to the 'confines of the private home.'[70] Culpepper Stroup argues further, that 'the representation, [although figurative] of a "wife" as sexual negotiator…results in a necessary destabilisation or displacement of her "domestic" identity.'[71] This incompatible dual identity is only resolved by the women's return to the marital home at the close of the play.
  35. The fundamental challenges women's very presence poses to the traditional structures and boundaries of public life, comedically explored in Lysistrata, have persisted. The gendered nature of the African post-colonial state—a state ingrained with predominantly 'male values, ideology and vision of the world…codifies, institutionalizes and legitimizes patriarchy.'[72] This governance structure, based as it is on a gendered hierarchy, is strengthened and supported by historical and contemporary factors. Lisa Aubrey identifies key elements which continue to contribute to women's exclusion in public life—the subordination of women in traditional African cultures which were exacerbated through Islamic and European colonial periods. These historically established and reinforced hierarchies, Aubrey contends, are 'stringently enforced by post-colonial state policy and practices, and are reproduced by the gendered cultures of politics.'[73]
  36. Although independence in Kenya did not (re-)produce a replica of British governance as manifest at the imperial centre, the Constitution at Kenyan independence and the associated administrative order of the post-colonial government inherited the 'Westminster concern' with state institutions, power distribution and limitation on one hand, and the 'home grown nature of customs and conventions of government and their operation as both definitions of purpose and limitations of excesses.'[74] In these respects then, for the purposes of the following discussion, the ideal of the public citizen of Westminster constitutionalism exists in the post-colonial Kenyan context.[75]
  37. The separation between public and private spaces is policed by men anxious to preserve public spaces for themselves—anxious to protect the narrow category of eligible public citizen—male, 'rational, independent, self-directed, autonomous and cultural.'[76] Through this policing and constant reinforcing of the boundary between public and private, 'women were therefore explicitly excluded from the status of the self-possessed and self-knowing, public, legal subject and consigned to the (notionally unregulated) private sphere.'[77] As Ngaire Naffine explains in her work on feminism and gender, in western democratic contexts, until recently the 'concept of the citizen was coterminous with a dominant Western ideal of masculinity, which, in a non-arbitrary way, was always associated with actual men who monopolised the institutions of public power.'[78]
  38. Far from being regulated by the transnational ideas of human rights, women's bodies are sites upon which cultural values are contested. A female consciousness which expresses autonomy through the explicit rejection of these cultural values is energetically, and violently resisted. Margaret Davies argues that this 'unquestioning tendency we have to divide the social world into public and private spheres has often been used as a way of legitimating (or at least masking) violence which takes place in "private".'[79] Women attempting to enter public life in recent Kenyan elections, and women identified as putatively supporting particular political parties by virtue of their ethnicity were targeted in ways associated with the private sphere. Physical and sexual violence are tools which regulate the behaviour of women, and the political and cultural spaces they seek to occupy. As Davis observes, 'violence against women—domestic assault, rape sexual abuse, incest—is frequently defined as private, and beyond state intervention, meaning simply that women have traditionally been less protected by the criminal law than men.'[80]
  39. In what is intended to be an empathic treatment of a woman fleeing post-election violence, Stephen Derwent Partington's Praise Poem illustrates the restrictive range of acceptable identities available to women.

      An acclamation for the man who,
      Though he saw the woman running, clothing torn,
      And though he lusted,
      Saw his mother in her youth,
      Restrained his colleagues
      And withdrew.[81]

  40. This stanza illustrates the minimal benefits, and the dehumanising limits of the relational, dualist conceptions of gender to which Kenyan women are so often subject. The vignette also encapsulates the danger represented in the destabilising forces of women in public spaces, with particular reference to the 2007 post-election violence. The protagonist, and structural 'hero' in the stanza is lusting after a woman who is fleeing in fear, her partial undress and flight indicates recent trauma, and that danger has not yet passed. This unprotected woman, disturbing public space, is out of place, and uncontained. Of course, from the perspective of Kenyan national law and international public law, this fleeing woman is an autonomous, rights-bearing subject. Yet, as the poet explains, her right to protection is invoked through her relationship to the protagonist (and the poet/observer), he 'saw his mother in her youth.' Her status as a synecdochic mother is the identity which protects her from further harm. Viewed as merely a woman she is out of place, her very presence generates disorder. Identifying her as a mama, a community elder, regulates the public space she occupies, and the behaviour of those around her. As a mother, she is to be protected—or at least not molested further. It is dismaying that the men in the stanza do not assist her, they only chose not to act on their lust. The poet views women relationally—as a mother (his own mother, no less), and he mobilises traditional, cultural identities, familial identities—in order to accord this fleeing woman a minimal protection from further violence. The generosity of according her the label of 'mother', recognised by the poet in his 'acclamation for the man' is her only saviour, restoring order to public space, and setting her firmly within acceptable cultural space.[82]
  41. This figure of the fleeing woman, dishevelled, friendless and alone is familiar, not just in the post-election context, but also in the ways in which many Kenyan women experience violence every day. Violence was, and continues to be deployed predominantly by men against women,[83] primarily to coerce women into withdrawing from public space. This goal was also vigorously pursued during the 2007 post-election period through threatening or perpetrating sexual and/or physical assault against women who were vulnerable by virtue of their public profile, or through displacement following political and inter-ethnic violence.

  42. In this context then, the sex boycott of the G10 takes on a new significance. The women announcing the strike were doing so in their capacity as leaders within explicitly political women's organisations, invoking the transnational discourse of rights culture to draw attention to, and demand women's citizenship rights. In politicising men's access to sex, including offering to pay prostitutes to participate in the strike, the contexts in which sexual violence is used against Kenyan women as forms of control and intimidation become explicit in this public, official statement of bodily and sexual autonomy.
  43. For commentators, there was a real concern that not only would the strike be logistically impossible, but that it would provoke further retaliatory gender-based violence. In contexts of opportunistic and widespread violence, it is difficult to convince women to take up the identity of the rights-bearing subject in the absence of enforcement, or often, even recognition of those rights.[84] This rights-bearing identity is also a direct challenge to other identities through which women derive cultural capital—and which bolster the identities of their husbands and partners.[85] Indeed, as Naffine reminds us, in order for the man 'to realise his personal and sexual freedom in the private sphere, it was essential that she (his wife) did not (for how could he be free to do as he pleased if she had the right to say no?).'[86] Merry explains this tension as a choice between, 'two incompatible subject positions, one is the rights-bearing subject, the other the good wife. Each represents a vision of the self that produces self-esteem, but [she] cannot simultaneously enact both. Choosing either one represents a failure of the other.'[87]
  44. In announcing the boycott, the G10 explicitly rejected the current social contract, and the primacy of the 'good wife'—and laid claim to a sexual autonomy which had not yet been recognised in Kenyan law. The statement characterises the actions of the men in power as selfish, narrow minded and contemptible. The G10 women identify themselves as 'equal shareholders of Kenya' and present the leaders with the sex boycott and a new performance agreement to reset (or perhaps agree for the first time) the social contract between the women of Kenya and their leadership.
  45. The G10's sex boycott is an attempt to create a public space that is sexed female, and in doing so delegitimise the presumption that public spaces are either nominally gender neutral, or masculine. The women attempted to force the Kenyan polis to 'see women as they are, as real sexed women,' who continue to struggle to occupy and control public space, resources and power; to struggle to develop a distinctively female subjectivity of their own.'[88] Yet, however vigorously Kenyan women fight for access to education and resources, the sex strike did not resonate. Grounded as it was in the transnational culture of rights, this new value system had not been accepted by many Kenyan women, who so rarely see the fruits of human rights culture. Equally, there is little incentive for men to acknowledge the autonomy of women. The mobilisation of gendered identities and spaces protects existing power structures and cultures.[89]
  46. The G10's press statement and sex boycott represent an attempt to carve such a space for a sexed legal subject in modern Kenya. The women of Lysistrata, successfully negotiate an end to the Peloponnesian War through a comically scandalous 'de-wifing,' and then return, (or one might say, in an anachronistically proto-feminist reading, retreat) to the private sphere at the close of the play. The very act of their re-sequestering represents the return to the order and stability of the masculine state at peace.
  47. The war fought on the Kenyan front however, did not end in a retreat to the domestic. The boycott was not primarily an incentive to action—to use sex, as commentators assumed, to achieve a discrete goal—but a demand to recast the social contract, and to fight for a radical redefinition of the category of Kenyan citizen.


    [1] Participant at the 'Rights of women and marginalised communities training' for human rights community advocates and trainers, Kenya Human Rights Commission, November 2012, Nairobi.

    [2] Postscript: This paper was written before significant work had begun on the implementation of the 2/3 Gender Principle, enshrined in the new Kenyan Constitution 2010 which requires that not more than two thirds of elective offices in Kenya are represented by one gender. Structurally, this required significant numbers of women to successfully contest the 2013 General Elections. Without constitutional amendment, or judicial interpretation, failure to attain at least one-third female representation in the national parliament will render the election constitutionally invalid.

    Since this paper was completed, Kenya held national General Elections in March 2013 in which no women won seats at Governor or Senator level. In December 2012, the Supreme Court of Kenya handed down an Advisory Opinion, In the matter of the principle of gender representation in the National Assembly and the Senate, where the court advised, by majority that the 2/3rds gender principle under Article 81(b) is a right to be progressively realised. This Opinion means that although no women were elected to positions other than those in Women's Representative seats (which only women could contest), the National Assembly was not deemed constitutionally invalid. The Court held that the Kenyan Parliament must pass a law by August 2015 (five years from the enactment of the Constitution) which would give effect to Article 81(b). For further discussion see National Gender and Equality Commission, The Supreme Court Ruling on the Realisation of the Two Thirds Gender Principle, undated, URL:, accessed 15 November 2013; Supreme Court of Kenya, In the Matter of the Principle of Gender Representation in the National Assembly and the Senate [2012] No. 2, eKLR, URL:, accessed 15 November 2013.

    I gratefully acknowledge the Australian Federation of Graduate Women for their support for my doctoral field work through the Georgina Sweet Fellowship. I also acknowledge the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) for their institutional support. The sound advice and patient ears of my KHRC colleagues during my time in Kenya continues to be invaluable.

    [3] G10 Coalition, (Patricia Nyaundi, Executive Director FIDA; Debra Okumu, Executive Director Caucus; Carol Angengo, Executive Director TCI; Rukia Subow, National Chairperson Maendeleo Ya Wanawake; Faith Kasiva, GMI; Jelioth Karuri, Vice Chairperson Maendeleo Ya Wanawake; Ann Njogu, Executive Director, CREAW; Rosmary Okello, Executive Director AWC; Tabitha Njoroge, Executive Director WILDAF; Mary Njeri, Executive Director COVAW; Kathambi Kinoti, Young Women Leadership Institute), 'Women's sex strike – G10 press statement,' Pambazuka News Online, 30 April 2009, URL:, accessed 27 December 2011.

    [4] Charles Onunaiju, 'Kenya women threaten sex strike to end divisive politics,' Daily Trust Newspaper Online, 1 May 2009, URL:, accessed 29 December 2011.

    [5] Onunaiju, 'Kenya women threaten sex strike to end divisive politics.'

    [6] 'Kenyan women stage a "sex strike",' Al Jazeera, 1 May 2009, URL:, accessed 6 January 2011.

    [7] Sally Engle Merry, 'New legal realism and the ethnography of transnational law,' Law and Social Inquiry, vol. 31, no. 4 (Fall 2006): 975–95, p. 983.

    [8] Lynn M. Thomas, Politics of the Womb: Women, Reproduction and the State in Kenya, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003, p. 6.

    [9] Merry, 'New legal realism and the ethnography of transnational law,' p. 992.

    [10] Sally Engle Merry, Human Rights and Gender Violence: Translating International Law into Local Justice, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.

    [11] Merry, Human Rights and Gender Violence.

    [12] This politicisation of sex contains elements of what is traditionally considered a radical feminist framework which, as Marie Benadict-Dembour notes, 'pays particular attention to sexual (or sexually charged) issues: pornography, prostitution, rape, sexual harassment, female genital mutilation, abortion, sterilization, anorexia and other issues related to the sexed body. The radical feminist perspective makes it possible, and indeed imperative, for the personal to become political.' Marie Benadict-Dembour, Who Believes in Human Rights? Reflections on the European Convention, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006, p. 201.

    [13] Sally Engle Merry, 'Rights talk and the experience of law: implementing women's human rights to protection from violence,' Human Rights Quarterly, vol. 25, no. 2 (May 2003): 343–81, p. 344.

    [14] Field work conducted in several sites in Kenya between August and December 2012: Nairobi (Kibera and Kangeme); Nyanza (Ahero; Bumala; Butere; Ugunja); and Taita (Taveta).

    [15] Shadrack Wanjala Nasong'o and Theodora O. Ayot, 'Women's politics of transition and democratization,' in Kenya: the Struggle for Democracy, ed. Godwin R. Murunga and Shadrack Wanjala Nasong'o, Dakar: CODISRA Books, 2007, pp. 164–96, p. 172.

    [16] Thomas, Politics of the Womb, p. 11.

    [17] Wanjala Nasong'o and Murunga, 'Women's politics of transition and democratization,' p. 168.

    [18] Wanjala Nasong'o and Murunga, 'Women's politics of transition and democratisation,' p. 172.

    [19] Thomas, Politics of the Womb, p. 17.

    [20] Wanjala Nasong'o and Murunga, 'Women's politics of transition and democratisation,' pp. 173–74; Thomas, Politics of the Womb, p. 17.

    [21] Wanjala Nasong'o and Murunga, 'Women's politics of transition and democratisation,' p. 175. See Rose Adhiambo Arungu-Olende, 'Kenya: not just literacy, but wisdom,' in Sisterhood is Global: The International Women's Movement Anthology, ed. Robin Morgan, New York: Anchor Books, 1984, pp. 394–98; Tabitha Kanogo, 'Kikuyu women and the politics of protest,' in Images of Women in Peace and War: Cross-cultural and Historical Perspectives, ed. Sharon Macdonald et al., Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1987, pp. 78–100. This incremental marginalisation of women as formal processes take over the tasks of nation-building (or rebuilding) is also problematised by Rebecca Monson in this edition, in her analysis of the critique of Solomon Islander women's marginalisation in political processes of the post-conflict period. See Monson, 'Vernacularising political participation: strategies of women peace-builders in Solomon Islands,' in Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific, issue 33, December 2013, online:

    [22] Maria Nzomo, 'The political economy of the African crisis: gender impacts and responses,' International Journal, vol. 51, no. 1 (1995/1996): 78–102, pp. 86–87.

    [23] See for instance Monica Udvardy, 'Theorizing past and present women's organisation in Kenya,' World Development, vol. 26, no. 9 (September 1998): 1749–1761; and Faith Kihiu, Women as Agents of Democratisation: The Role of Women's Organisations in Kenya (1990–2007), Frankfurt: Lit Verlag, 2010.

    [24] Nzomo, 'The political economy of the African crisis,' p. 82.

    [25] Thomas, Politics of the Womb, p. 163.

    [26] Nzomo, 'The political economy of the African crisis,' pp. 86–87.

    [27] Nzomo, 'The political economy of the African crisis,' pp. 86–87.

    [28] Nzomo 'The political economy of the African crisis,' p. 86.

    [29] Gwendolyn Mikell, 'African feminism: toward a new politics of representation,' Feminist Studies, vol. 21, no. 2 (1995): 405–24.

    [30] Wanjala Nasong'o and Murunga, 'Women's politics of transition and democratisation,' p. 181.

    [31] L. Muthoni Wanyeki reported 'more women made it through the competitive political party nomination process to stand for elective office than ever before…despite facing sexism and, in at least one instance, lethal violence.' See Lynne Muthoni Wanyeki, 'Lessons from Kenya: women and the post-election violence,' Feminist Africa, no. 10 (2008): 91–98, p. 91.

    [32] Kathambi Kinoti, 'Kenya's elections: how did women fare? Interview with Wangari Kinothi,' in Association for Women in Development (AWID), 12 February 2008, URL:, accessed 6 January 2012.

    [33] Kinoti, 'Kenya's elections: how did women fare?'

    [34] Judge Johan Kriegler et al., Report of the Independent Review Commission on the General Elections held in Kenya on 27th December, 2007, Nairobi: Government Printer, Government of Kenya, 17 September 2008, 2 December 2013. See also 'Department for International Development, 'Kenya High Commission - Country Profile,' Elections in Kenya 2007, online:, accessed 22 February 2013.

    [35] Guled Mohamed, 'Kenyan police fight protestors, 2 dead,' ReliefWeb, 16 January 2008, URL:, accessed 25 September 2011; see also Wanyeki, 'Lessons from Kenya: women and the post-election violence.'

    [36] Wanyeki, 'Lessons from Kenya: women and the post-election violence,' p. 94.

    [37] Isaac Ongiri, 'I acted under pressure, says Kivuitu,' Standard Newspaper Online, 2 January 2008, URL:, accessed 5 January 2012. See also, the Diplomatic and Consular Yearbook Online which reported, 'The Chair of the ECK, Samuel Kivuitu has since stated that he made the announcement of Kibaki's win "under duress",' see 'Kenya High Commission – Country Profile,' Diplomatic and Consular Yearbook Online, undated, online:, accessed 4 January 2012.

    [38] For a detailed explanation of the escalation of the violence, and its inter-ethnic character see Wanyeki, 'Lessons from Kenya: women and the post-election violence.'

    [39] For example, 'Between late December and early January 44 people had died of bullet wounds in Kisumu alone,' as reported in 'KENYA: police under fire over live rounds,' IRIN Humanitarian News and Analysis, 17 January 2008, online:, accessed 5 January 2012.

    [40] Wanyeki, 'Lessons from Kenya: women and the post-election violence,' p. 94.

    [41] 'Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Post-Election Violence (CIPEV),' The Kenya Dialogue and Reconciliation website, 15 October 2008, URL:, accessed 25 November 2013.

    [42] 'Other areas severely affected by the violence in other parts of the country were areas in the Rift Valley,' as well as Eldoret, Timboroa, Nakuru, Burnt Forest and Limuru and the cities of Kisumu and Mombasa. See Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), 'Kenya: health workers grappling with conflict-related sexual violence,' in IRIN, 28 January 2008, online:, accessed 6 January 2012.

    [43] Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), 'KENYA: health workers grappling with conflict-related sexual violence.' Numbers of displaced persons vary considerably. For instance the UK Department for International Development Report Elections in Kenya 2007 estimates 350,000 displaced persons as a result of the post-election violence. See URL:, accessed 22 February 2013.

    [44] IRIN, 'Kenya: displaced women "still facing threat of sexual violence",' 10 March 2008, URL:, accessed 11 January 2012.

    [45] IRIN, 'Kenya: displaced women "still facing threat of sexual violence".'

    [46] For a discussion of the implication of the Gikuyu cult the Mungiki in the castration and circumcision of Luo men see Beth Maina Ahlberg and Kenzia Muthoni Njoroge, '"Not men enough to rule!': politicization of ethnicities and forcible circumcision of Luo men during the postelection violence in Kenya,' Ethnicity & Health, vol. 18, no. 5 (2013): 454–68.

    [47] UK Home Office, 'Operational Guidance Note: Kenya,' UK Border Agency website, 25 February 2011, p. 15, URL:, accessed 10 December 2012. Kofi Annan was the Secretary General of the United Nations (1997–2006) and Condolezza Rice was the United States of America Secretary of State 2005–2009.

    [48] 'Q&A Kenya peace deal,' BBC News Online, 13 April 2008, URL:, accessed 5 January 2012.

    [49] 'Q&A Kenya peace deal.'

    [50] 'Q&A Kenya peace deal.'

    [51] UK Home Office, Operational Guidance Note: Kenya, p. 15.

    [52] 'Kenyan leaders in call for peace,' BBC News Online, 24 April 2008, URL:, accessed 5 January 2012.

    [53] Onunaiju, 'Kenya women threaten sex strike to end divisive politics.'

    [54] G10 Coalition, 'Women's sex strike – G10 press statement.'

    [55] Paul Ohaia, 'Women go on sex strike,' This Day Newspaper (Nigeria), 1 May 2009, URL:, accessed 23 November 2011.

    [56] Ohaia, 'Women go on sex strike.'

    [57] Reuben Olita, 'Men start 30-day sex strike,' New Vision Newspaper (Uganda), 27 May 2009, URL:, accessed 23 November 2011.

    [58] 'Kenyan man sues over sex boycott "stress",' Telegraph Newspaper Online (UK), 8 May 2009, URL:, accessed 27 December 2011.

    [59] Tara Winfrey Harris, 'Withholding sex for a new Kenya,' Guardian Newspaper Online (UK), 1 May 2009, URL:, accessed 27 December 2011.

    [60] For instance, women instigating sex strikes in Colombia to protest the lack of a safe road. See Euclides Montes, 'Colombia's "crossed legs" protest is redefining women's activism,' Guardian Newspaper, 1 August 2011, URL:, accessed 28 December 2011; and Filipino women staging a sex strike to end violence between two neighbouring communities. See Jojo Walig, 'Women's "sex strike" a global phenom,', 17 August 2011, URL:, accessed 4 January 2012.

    For a fascinating discussion of a sex strike instigated by the women of a Puerto Rican nationalist gang living in New York in the 1970s see Jennifer Nelson, '"Abortions under community control": feminism, nationalism, and the politics of reproduction among New York City's Young Lords,' Journal of Women's History, vol. 13, no. 1 (Spring, 2001): 157–80.

    [61] 'Lysistrata – African style,' in The New Times Newspaper at, 13 May 2008, URL:, accessed 30 December 2011.

    [62] 'Lysistrata – African style.'

    [63] Federation of Women Lawyers – Kenya (FIDA-Kenya) and the International Women's Human Rights Clinic, Georgetown University Law Centre, 'Kenyan laws and harmful customs curtail women's equal enjoyment of ICESCR Rights,' in A Supplementary Submission to the Kenyan Government's Initial Report under the ICESCR, (3 October 2008), URL:, accessed 8 January 2012.

    [64] IRIN, 'Kenya: Displaced women "still facing threat of sexual violence”,' refworld (10 March 2008), URL:, accessed 11 January 2012.

    [65] Sarah Culpepper Stroup, 'Designing women: Aristophanes' Lysistrata and the "Hetairization" of the Greek wife,' Arethusa, vol. 37, no. 1 (Winter 2004): 37–73, p. 37.

    [66] Stroup, 'Designing women,' pp. 37–38.

    [67] Michael Ewans (trans.), 'Aristophanes,' Lysistrata; the Women's Festival; and Frogs, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2010, lines 81–240.

    [68] Stroup, 'Designing women,' p. 40.

    [69] Wanjala Nasong'o and Murunga, 'Women's politics of transition and democratisation,' p. 179.

    [70] Stroup, 'Designing women,' pp. 41–42.

    [71] Stroup, 'Designing women,' pp. 41–42.

    [72] Wanjala Nasong'o and Murunga, 'Women's politics of transition and democratisation,' p. 170.

    [73] Lisa Aubrey, 'Gender, development and democratisation in Africa', Journal of Asian and African Studies: A Decade of Democracy in Africa, vol. 36, no. 1 (2001):87–113, p. 89.

    [74] H.W.O. Okoth-Ogendo, 'The politics of constitutional change in Kenya since independence, 1963–1969,' African Affairs, vol. 71, no. 282 (January 1972): 9–34, p. 9.

    [75] For further discussion of African constitutionalism, particularly in east Africa, see for instance Okoth-Ogendo, 'The politics of constitutional change in Kenya since independence, 1963–1969'; Daniel Branch and Nicholas Cheeseman, 'The politics of control in Kenya: understanding the bureaucratic-executive state, 1952–78,' Review of African Political Economy, vol. 33, no. 107 (March 2006): 11–31.

    [76] Ngaire Naffine, 'Sexing the subject (of law),' in Public and Private: Feminist Legal Debates, ed. Margaret Thornton, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1995, pp. 18–40, p. 24.

    [77] Naffine, 'Sexing the subject (of law),' p. 24.

    [78] Naffine, 'Sexing the subject (of law),' p. 24.

    [79] Margaret Jane Davies, Asking the Law Question, Sydney: Thomson Law Book Company, 1994, p. 170.

    [80] Davies, Asking the Law Question, p. 170.

    [81] Stephen Derwent Partington, 'Praise poem', in Kwani? Hung'arisha Haswa, vol. 5, no. 1 (2008): 21.

    [82] This is not to discount other contexts in which maternal identities are mobilised by women as strategies of engagement in times of conflict. As Rebecca Monson notes in this edition, 'maternal idioms' draw on the complex relationships that exist between kin and land. Women have derived strength from their identities as mother-citizens. See Monson, 'Vernacularising political participation.'

    In the African context, Alexandra Tibbetts examines the complexities of the mother-citizen in her article examining a protest by mothers of political prisoners in Nairobi. See Alexandra Tibbetts, 'Mamas fighting for freedom in Kenya,' Africa Today, vol. 41, no. 4 (1994): 27–48.

    [83] Noting instances of sexual violence against men and boys, for example, in Ahlberg and Noroge, '"Not men enough to rule!”'

    [84] Sally Engle Merry, 'Rights talk and the experience of law: implementing women's human rights to protection from violence,' Human Rights Quarterly, vol. 25, no. 2 (May 2003): 34–81, p. 35.

    [85] Merry, 'Rights talk and the experience of law: implementing women's human rights to protection from violence,' p. 351.

    [86] Naffine, 'Sexing the subject (of law),' p. 27.

    [87] Merry, 'Rights talk and the experience of law: implementing women's human rights to protection from violence,' p. 351.

    [88] Naffine, 'Sexing the subject (of law),' p. 20.

    [89] Merry, 'New legal realism and the ethnography of transnational law,' p. 979.


Published with the support of Gender and Cultural Studies, School of Culture, History and Language, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University.
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