Sex strike was mentioned in passing as a strategy they incorporated. I could not help but laugh hearing it, and I wondered how it worked (Leymah Gbowee says that it is the first thing a reporter would ask her.)
It turns out that "sex strike" is a very old idea. In Wikipedia, Sex Strike lists historic, prehistoric and modern incidences and tales of sex strikes. Perhaps the most famous is a Greek comedy called Lysistrata (411 BC Greece), in which the leader, Lysistrata organizes women to go on sex strike and withhold sexual privileges from their husbands and lovers as a means of forcing the men to negotiate peace. In 1953, a movie was made based on it. In Nigeria, not very far from Liberia, there was an old tradition of Women's Council which held a power to order mass strikes and demonstrations by all women against men. So, some of the leaders of Liberia's women's peace movement might have known those traditions and stories. Or, it may be an idea any woman would come up with when it is called for, since it can be traced back to pre-human days, as part of the behavioral repertoire we share with monkeys (Chris Knight 1991).
In any case, Leymah Gbowee, the leader of the women's peace movement received Novel Peace Prize in 2011, and her book MightyBe Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War; a Memoir is also available. I finally had a chance to listen to the audio version of the book.
I love audio books. Were it not for the audio book version, I would not have read/listened this book. I process text all day long as part of my work, I have very little appetite left for reading at the end of the day, especially for English. With audio books, I can close my eyes and just listen (Just one problem. I frequently find myself fallen a sleep and have to rewind to find the place to restart.)
In Lysistrata, women take over Acropolis and barricade themselves in it. They take over the war chest kept in there too. Some women make up excuses to see their men, but Lysistrata manages to keep women united. Men try to break the barricade by force at the beginning, then try to talk them out of it, while women pretend to seduce and toy with them. In the end, men break down and accept women's demand for peace talk.
In Liberia, the condition was very violent. The warlords and their men, practically thugs with guns, knives, explosives, etc. marauding and destroying villages and neighborhoods, killing, raping, kidnapping, steeling as they pleased. In that kind of condition, what good does it do to declarer a sex strike? It would be an invitation for more violence, unless the women can hide themselves in a safe place. Sure enough, one woman was reportedly beaten and raped by mentioning sex strike. The strike wasn't just targeting the men fighting, but it was also targeting the men who were doing nothing to stop the violence and destruction. In some rural villages where the old custom of women only gathering places were still in use, they could carry out the strike successfully and persuaded men to cooperate.
It is a common theme of ancient myths that a goddess gets angry and goes on strike (hide herself in a cave, for example) because of the violent and destructive behaviors of a male god. In Japanese mythology, it's the sun goddess Amaterasu against her brother god Susano-o. In Greek mythology, it's the goddess of the harvest Demeter against her brother god Poseidon. The devastation that ensues the goddess's wrath during her strike is an acknowledgement of women's power.
The similarity between this part of the Japanese mythology and the Greek mythology may not be coincidental, according to some researchers. These mythological themes can be found through out the Eurasian continent and the surrounding areas influenced by herding culture. There are too many matching detail to be coincidental, down to the final event that triggered the goddess's wrath, a rape involving a horse (horse is the source of military power, the defining feature of herding culture).
Before the herding culture swept across the world with its horses, large cattle, horse led carriages, metal tools and weapons about 5,000 years ago, there was a period when "Venus figurines" were created all around the world. The oldest known is Venus of Hohle Fels, discovered in 2008 in Germany, carbon dated to at least 35,000 years ago. In Japan, countless such figurines have been unearthed from Jomon period (16,500 ~ 3,000 years ago). It was the period of the hunter-gatherers and the early farmers.
27cm tall, Japan
4,000~5,000 years old
Venus of Willendorf
about 35,000 years old
However, after being taken over by herding culture, those figurines have disappeared, and the images of powerful animals such as lions, eagles, and horned bulls and rams started appear as symbols of power.
|Deir ez-Zor Museum, Syria|
At the same time, burial became more elaborate with valued possessions buried along with the dead, reflecting the wealth and the status of the buried, such as pyramids and burial mounds found all around the world. Then, some how they have gone out of style, it seems. Instead, more elaborate temples were built in dedication and as a memorial to the dead. I've not heard of any explanation why this change occurred, though.
Getting back to the herding culture, it is a culture that swept the world with horses, horse led wagons, chariots, metal tools/weapons, and large cattle, and with each invention and innovation of more efficient transportation method and more powerful weaponry, men repeated and expanded invasion, pillage, plunder, rape, and murder to hoard the riches, land, and slaves. That is pretty much how the wealth has been built and lost during the last 5000 years of human history, and still is albeit in more sophisticated forms (although, some Africans and Chinese are still doing it the old way).
The successful peace movement we have witnessed in an African country gives me a hope that the period of human history dominated by the herding culture might finally be in its final chapter. Leymah Gbowee received 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, and expanding the women's peace movement not just in African, but all around the world, and Liberia is now governed by a woman president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, just like Himiko once did in Ancient Japan.
If I were to pick the most impressed part of Leymah Gbowee's MightyBe Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War; a Memoir, it is the dream she had that told her to pray for peace. Carl Jung made an observation that a great leader has a capacity to receive a "big dream" when faced with a big decision that determines the fate of the group. It has often been referred as revelation, divine message, or god's voice. Leymah Gbowee was working as a counselor at the time to help heal the minds and the community torn by the violence and destruction that had been going on for 14 years and no end in sight. The situation was so deteriorated that she had to move her family to a safer place in Nigeria. As a woman, her heart was with women victimized in every imaginable way and more, yet resilient survivors. She believed those women were the key to end the violence. She was working day and night, often sleeping in her office searching for a way to build a women's network for peace. It was one of those nights that she had the dream. She thought she heard the voice of god, and woke up shaking.
Now, if I hear someone say that you can bring peace by just praying for peace, my reaction would be "how naive". Leymah Gbowee, however, took that voice seriously, and consulted her colleagues and elders at her church, where she could get the support she needed to make the "Pray for Peace" movement the symbol of people's will and solidarity the warring factions could not ignore. Soon the movement gathered a momentum and forced the president Charles Taylor and the opposing warlords to the negotiating table.
What she did to get the negotiation moving was also very impressive, but you need to read the book or watch the movie to find out how she handled it.