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In 2006, the women of Colombia started the 'crossed legs' movement to stop gang violence. It worked.

As the world watches (and in many cases scoffs) as American actress Alyssa Milano calls for a sex strike over abortion laws in Georgia, they might like to do their research before they dismiss her approach to forcing change.

A sex strike is not a new phenomena, and in many cases throughout history, it has actually worked.

Of course, the conversation in 2019 is more about the morality of using a woman’s body as a tool for change, but in Colombia it has redefined women’s activism in the country and paved the way for real positive change.

The Quicky dives into the history of sex strikes. Post continues after podcast.

In 2006, a group of women started the strike of the ‘crossed legs’ to put a stop to gang violence.

The women were wives and girlfriends of the gang leaders and with the support of their mayor’s office, they sent their partners a clear message: give up guns, or give up sex.

The city had done surveys and found out many gang members were in it not for the money, but because of the power and sexual seduction they thought it granted them.

“We want them to know that violence is not sexy,” Jennifer Bayer, 18, told The Guardian at the time.

She said the men had laughed about the strike when they started, but they soon realised the women weren’t backing down.

Pereira where the strike was being held, had Colombia’s highest murder rate. But within a few years, Colombia saw its steepest decline in the murder rate down 26 percent in 2010.

Spurred on by the success, Colombian women in a different town continued the ‘crossed legs’ movement.

They refused to have sex with their husbands and partners to encourage the government to deal with the terrible condition of a 35-mile stretch of road leading from their home of Barbacoas.

Due to frequent flooding and mudslides the road was often closed, and could take as long as 24 hours to travel down. The nearest hospital could involve a 14 hour journey.

The group of 300 women said their main concern was the risks of young women and their babies dying in childbirth.

After three months of abstinence, the government pledged funds to re-pave the road, but this did not materialise.

So in 2013, the women again withheld sex. This time, their men didn’t wait three months, they spurred into action, and army engineers were brought in to re-pave problem areas.

Their spokeswoman told the GlobalPost: “At first, the men were really angry. But it worked”.

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Ancient Greece

The very first mention of a ‘sex strike’ originated in Ancient Greece. In a play called Lysistrata, the female characters withheld sex from their husbands to secure peace and the end of the war.

The Greek comedy is why sometimes sex strikes are to this day referred to as the Lysistrata effect.

Native America

In the 1600s, women from Native American confederacy refused to have sex to stop unregulated warfare.

The men believed that their women knew the “secret of birth” and so the strike proved a powerful tactic.

Eventually the men caved and granted women veto power concerning all wars.

This was the first feminist rebellion in the United States.

Liberia

In 2003, Liberian woman Leymah Gbowee called for a sex strike to end the country’s brutal civil war.

It worked – warlords agreed to end the violence that same year, and in 2011 Gbowee was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts.

In an interview with the Huffington Post, Gbowee said a sex strike worked because it highlighted the issue and got men thinking.

“The percentage of men who wage war is very small. Good men outnumber evil men, but why are they silent? Our strategy helps the good men because it gives them a reason to take action. They start talking to their colleagues and beer buddies, saying ‘this war is wrong.'”

Kenya

In 2009, Kenyan women refused to have sex with men to stop political infighting.

With the support of the prime minister’s and president’s wives, the women hoped the move would push politicians to come to an agreement and avoid violence.

It worked. Within a week there was a stable government.

The Philippines

In 2011, the women of the town of Dado, on a conflict torn island, withheld sex because they were fed up with trade obstruction, market isolation and instability caused by ongoing conflict.

The idea was conceived by a group of women who had set up a sewing business, but found they could not deliver their products because the village road was closed by the threat of violence.

They were successful, they brought peace to their small town within a few short days.

America

Right now, actress Alyssa Milano is making waves in America by calling on women to join her in a sex strike, as she protests against anti-abortion laws.

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“Our reproductive rights are being erased.

“Until women have legal control over our own bodies we just cannot risk pregnancy.

“JOIN ME by not having sex until we get bodily autonomy back.

“I’m calling for a #SexStrike, pass it on,” she wrote on Twitter over the weekend.

She’s referring to new laws in Georgia, where she is currently filming her latest TV series Insatiable.

It’s the fourth state in the US this year to ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected which can be as early as six weeks.

Her call has received both praise and criticism, with #SexStrike trending on Twitter over the weekend.

Arguably it’s media attention and the ‘noise’ that comes with sparking a sex strike that has encouraged change over the years.

At the very least Milano’s strike is reminding men that women have control over their bodies and how they use them.

Critics are arguing that a sex strike only serves to perpetuate the stereotype that women ‘provide’ sex to men who ‘need’ sex, as opposed to both enjoying it equally with consent.

Others also claimed that Milano’s call presumes all women are straight and cisgendered.

Either way, she’s making noise.

Let’s see if it works.

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