— By Farida from Togo
In a country of 6 million people, the over half who live in poverty are the backbones of the society: the most abused, the most neglected, the most discriminated against, yet, the hardest workers.
These women bear the cost of bad governance at all levels. From the difficult conditions in which they deliver their babies on the floor in public hospitals that lack the bare minimum including beds, to working long hours at farms or in the markets just to make enough money so they can school their children that the government has abandoned, to supporting their jobless husbands who officially are the bread winners but are still awaiting a call for an office job at one of the zillion companies they have applied to, these strong, resilient and powerful ladies are the women of Togo.
In August 2012, they made history and received the long-sought attention on the abuse they have been going through with a 5 decades old regime that only operates through brutality. After protesting every week for 2 consecutive years without having an iota of attention from international medias and institutions to look into the severe human rights abuses that they and their families had been facing, these ladies decided to take action. “A sex strike! Who does that?” – a question I heard a political commentator in the United States ask when the news blew out. Togolese women called for a sex strike on the 25th of August 2012 and it was the very first time in the history of my country that an article reporting an event happening in Togo was published on over 400 news sites in over 80 countries from Australia to Japan, from the United States to Ecuador. Yes! It took a while but I did count every single one of them on Google News.
For the first time, the world paid attention to us. The world listened and questioned the motive behind such an uncommon political action. For the first time, major international medias brought Togo from the “Who Cares Planet” and acknowledged the suffering of its people. As a young 22 years old activist who has been involved in the struggle for democracy in my country from a very tender age, for me that was a victory. None of the hundreds of letters we sent to foreign countries and international institutions ever worked. None of the hundreds of protests we organized in every corner of the world as Togolese in the diaspora ever worked. None of the massive killings and incarcerations our people have been going through were shocking enough for the world to share our pain. It took the self-dignity of our mothers, our sisters and our aunties who had to organize naked protests and call for a sex strike for the world to pause for a second and say, “Oh, this is serious!” And that is the reality we are living in.
We are living in a world in which women have no voice unless sex is involved and this applies to politics even more. The war in the Democratic Republic of Congo that had 7 million people killed (the deadliest war since World War II) only gained attention in recent years when cases of massive rapes were reported. In Congo, rape is used as a weapon of war not because the warlords and rapists are in dire need of sex but because they want attention from the world and they know that violating women is the best and fastest way to get noticed and make a statement.
The events in Togo left a trail that followed me wherever I went to raise awareness on torture and abuses in my country. People ask me if that’s not the country whose women called for a sex strike. We used to be invisible and would still have been if the women of Togo at some point in their life didn’t feel so powerless that they had to put their cultural values aside and step out naked in front of cameras and discuss the most tabooed topic within their society: sex. At first, I was proud of them. I still am and am grateful for their courage and their sense of selflessness as I know they took such steps for us, the youths, their kids who they so wish to save from the misery and the abuses they have faced their whole life. But after the buzz, I reflected on the whole thing and my heart started aching. It devastates me to live in society that only gives value to what’s between women’s legs. And I hope that someday, the daughter I might have or never have will not need to go that far for her voice to be heard.