This is trivializing: the prurient humour invoked by the Aristophanic idea of a ‘sex strike’, with women teasing deprived and desperate men, is especially inappropriate in the context of the widespread sexual abuse of the women of Liberia by the warlords and their troops, which was a major impetus in spurring the women to action. In a radio interview, Leymah Gbowee described the rape of ‘little girls’ and violations of older women and men (‘hell on earth’) and explains that the women responded by thinking, ‘What else do we have to lose? Our bodies are their battlefields: let's just put our bodies out there.’
‘Sex Strike’ is the headline that sells, so when reporters interview me, they tend to ask about the sex strike first. Did the women of Liberia really bring an end to the heinous civil war by withholding sex? Well, it certainly gave the men a fresh motive to press for peace. But the truth is that the greatest weapons of the Liberian women's movement were moral clarity, persistence, and patience. Nothing happened overnight. In fact it took three years of community awareness, sit-ins, and nonviolent demonstrations staged by ordinary ‘market women’ – years of gathering in the roads in eye-catching white T-shirts, demanding the attention of convoys of officials and media folks who would glimpse the signs and the dancing, would hear the chanting and the singing. Then we launched the sex strike. In 2002, Liberia's Christian and Muslim women banded together to refuse sex with their husbands until the violence and the civil strife ended
One of the pivotal moments in the struggle was in June 2003, when a delegation of women, including Gbowee, went to Accra in Ghana to put pressure on the warring factions who were holding peace talks there. After the talks had dragged on for weeks, the women formed a human barricade outside the meeting room, and refused to let the men out until they had successfully negotiated for peace. Gbowee, accused of obstructing justice and facing arrest, threatened to strip naked. In West African society, a woman taking off her clothes as a gesture of protest performs a curse upon the men who see her: ‘For this group of men to see a woman naked would be almost like a death sentence.’ All of these aspects are occluded when the actions are described as being a modern Lysistrata.