The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Hot-headed men, think twice

Khartoum, Dec. 24: A former university professor in Sudan has launched a sex strike in an attempt to end 19 years of civil war that have torn the country apart.

“Women decided that by withholding sex from their men they could force them to commit to peace — and it’s worked,” said Samira Ahmed.

“We are powerful, especially behind the scenes,” she said. Samira was explaining the way Sudanese women in the Upper Nile region of Southern Sudan have acted to stop their children dying.

The action is called al Hair in Arabic, which means “sexual abandoning” of their men. It began with just 20 women from the two tribal groups, the Lou and Jekany, which have been at the centre of the fighting. It had now been taken up by thousands of women, said Ahmed.

“I hate war,” she said, sitting in a Khartoum suburb. Her sari was arranged over her head, covering her hair and drawing attention to her heavily kohled eyes.

Around her neck was an elaborate silver necklace, and she wore heavy silver rings and bangles. As a former university professor, and the daughter of the first Sudanese senior manager for Shell, she has led a privileged life — and she knows it.

“As a child, the south seemed so far away, and it wasn’t until I was at university when I met southerners and became friends with them that I began to have hopes for Sudan and peace.”

She can act at government level to promote peace, but women in the war-torn villages had to think of some way to get their voices heard.

Hence the Lysistrata-style sex strike. There are direct parallels with Aristophanes’ play, in which Lysistrata’s disgust with war brings about a scheme to force the men of Greece to the peace table by denying them sex.

Unlike in ancient Greece, the women’s attempt to exert political influence in this way in Islamic Sudan touches a sensitive religious spot as it challenges the Muslim belief in husbands’ conjugal rights.

This, Ahmed said, was why the movement had not attracted publicity in northern Sudan, where the government sits and where the peace talks are being orchestrated.

“Here in Sudan women are subtle,” she said. “Most don’t use confrontation, and try to exert their influence within the family, but we are powerful especially behind the scenes, and we want to stay involved.”

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