Could India’s Women Ever go on A Sex Strike?

Sometime ago, I was sent a link to an article — a sort of a suggestion, that I was told Indian women could use to stop the female gendercide in India!

I took one look at the article  and burst out laughing!! Was this a joke?

The article was about how the women of Liberia had banded together and gone on a “sex strike.”  They had refused to have sex with their husbands till such time the violence and civil war was stopped and the average Liberian could at least try to live in peace!!

The reason I thought it was funny was because, this person, a westerner, who handed this lovely idea to me, obviously had no idea, or was too terrified to even contemplate, how the issue of sex and gender actually panned out in India.  Did she think that this is an option that the women of India can actually exercise?

In a country where millions of young women and girls, 50% of who are still teenagers, are forced into marriages, and the beds of complete strangers, who are forced to have sex with men they barely know, and often don’t want to marry, who are raped night after night, who have children forced on them whether they want children or not, who have abortions forced on them when they are carrying girl babies — do these women actually have the standing to go on a ‘sex strike?’  Who are we kidding here?

But are there parts of the third world, countries even poorer than India, where women can actually exercise this power or withholding sex from men?

 Well, the Sex-Strike in Liberia worked so well that recently the women of Togo announced that they are doing the same.  They are using it as a tool to force their political agenda in Togo, which is they want to form a strong opposition party and have the men join them so they can defeat the oppressive regime that has controlled Togo for the last 16 years!!

Why is it that women in far poorer nations than India can fight to stand their ground, and fight to exercise their sexual right as and where and how they want to, and Indian women can’t even have the choice of which man they will and won’t have sex with and whose children they will or won’t bear?

I have had many African and African American friends, and there is a certain grounded, powerful strength that I have always deeply admired in these women that I have never seen in Indian women.  What I realize is that it is not often about education and money, but about a cultural attitude that defines femininity and womanhood, and how women create space and identity for themselves within that culture.   As the founder of Liberia’s Sex Strike Leymah Gbowee said, “African women can be absolute hell-raisers.”  In a way that Indian women aren’t!!

I have often hated not just how Indian society but even westerners have patronized the subservient, head bent, face covered, submissive stance of Indian women, as ultra-feminine and appealing!! 

It is the Indian feminine image — passive, submissive, self-negating, un-individualistic, fragile, that has been eulogized in Bollywood films like ‘Slumdog Millionaire.’  When I lived in the U.S.  it bothered me insanely that the western men who would advertise for Asian women in the lonely hearts columns, were always interested in this passive, submissive, aspect of the Asian feminine psyche.

It’s this image, this female model that has now resulted in millions of women in India passively going to their deaths like cows to a slaughter yard.  It is what we must challenge and change!

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  1. You can not change people’s culture. You can not change a billion people’s way of thinking. You can fundamentally change a culture by switching it out with another culture. You have some female-dominated cultures in India, you just have to spread them to the rest of the country.

  2. The problem is huge, but its roots are not merely cultural and religious. Economy plays a huge part.
    Even in societies like India, rich women have more freedom than poor ones. Essentially it comes down to this: a woman whose only value is her body -for sex, reproduction and housework- can easily be denied her freedom, oppressed, replaced, done away with.
    A woman with a job, or her own income-bringing assets, has a value that is hard to replace, therefore can claim more space for herself and her children.
    American and Liberian women have jobs or businesses and can assert themselves. They have control of their own assets. They live without the burden of the dowry system.
    The majority of Indian women can produce no income, while their only assets, their dowries and bodies, become property of their husbands and in-laws.
    The dowry system is a curse, as it makes girls unwelcome. A child who has grown up feeling less worthy than brothers is likely to internalise such evaluations and feel so, therefore is less likely to assert herself. Not only that, but dowries impose a financial burden on the families that is likely to prevent them from spending further for the girls’ education.
    Finally, marrying the girl off, deprives her of a network of support. Girls who live close to their families are more likely to receive help when needed and the knowledge that the welfare of their wife is closely monitored by a father or brothers is likely to deter abuse on the part of the husband’s family.
    In short, giving girls and education and an income should be the first step. Abolishing the dowry system would go a long way towards empowering women (or stopping foeticide and infanticide) but attempts have so far failed. Perhaps making dowries property of the bride, to be passed on to their children or returned to their families in the case of childless death, would help, but this would be hard to enforce too. A radical culture shift where women would marry close to their families, take care of their aging parents and light the funeral pyres would also work wonders, but how likely is it to happen?
    It seems to me that you have a formidable task ahead of you, but I wish you every success. Your country – every country – surely needs more people like you.


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