The fight for political reform in Kenya has moved into an unlikely venue — the nation’s bedrooms.
Activists in the East African nation are urging women to withhold sex for a week to protest the growing divide in Kenya’s coalition government. “We are asking even sex workers to join the cause, even if we have to pay them ourselves,” said Patricia Nyaundi, executive director of the Federation of Women Lawyers in Kenya. The campaign was organized by G-10, an umbrella group for women’s organizations. It called on the wives of President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga to join the cause. Odinga’s wife, Ida, told CNN on Thursday that she supports the campaign “100 percent.” “I will not get into what my husband thinks,” she said, chuckling, “but I will say leaders need to focus on the things that affect our people, and I hope the publicity from this campaign will raise awareness on those issues. ” The campaign has sparked debate in a conservative nation where discussing sex in public is typically taboo. “This will accomplish nothing other than embarrass us,” said Martin Kamau, a resident of Nakuru, a major city northwest of the capital. “We are being punished, and yet we are not the ones causing the problems.” Kamau plans to plead his case with his wife. “Seven days is just too much,” he said. Others were not so worried. “Seven days is nothing,” one man told KTN, a Nairobi television station. “I can wait a year.” People in Kenya have become increasingly frustrated by a shaky coalition government formed in the wake of the post-election violence that killed more than 1,000 people in 2008. Relations between Kibaki and Odinga have become frosty, sparking fears of more violence. “We cannot allow our leaders to argue over non-issues while relegating the issues that affect this country to the back burner. When this happens, women suffer the most,” said Ann Njogu, director of Centers for Rights Education and Awareness, which describes itself as a non-partisan organization that “seeks to empower the society on women’s human rights.” A government official decried the campaign, saying Kibaki has always been committed to reform. “We are trying, coalitions all over the world have issues and so do we,” said Francis Mwaka, head of the government’s communications office. “We have always been focused on addressing problems even before this boycott.” In addition to targeting politicians, activists say, the campaign aims to draw spouses into the conversation and nudge them into demanding change. “Major decisions are made during pillow talk,” Nyaundi said. “We have to make the ultimate sacrifice for the good of this country.”