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Ukrainian women withholding sex from Russian men will only deepen ethnic tensions

Withholding sex from a particular ethnic group won’t resolve the conflict in Crimea, it will only escalate ethnic tensions.

Yet, for a group of Ukrainian women, that is exactly their latest strategy.

“Don’t give it to a Russian” is a campaign that calls for Ukrainian women to withhold sex from Russian men. But because this sex strike is directed solely at Russian men, it will only do harm by aggravating existing ethnic tensions.

Sex strikes aren’t a new concept. They have been an effective method for women to enact political change in situations when they might not have the political power to protest in more conventional forms.

A sex strike by the women of Liberia helped end the country’s 14-year civil war. More recently in Japan, many women refused to have sex with any man who supported the policies of the politician Yoichi Masuzoe. In 1989, Masuzoe said that women are unfit for government because their menstrual cycles make them irrational. Both groups of women used a generalized sex strike to influence politics in addition to other forms of protest.

But the Ukrainian campaign targets Russian men specifically under the notion that all Russian men support Putin’s controversial annexation of Crimea. Recent polls do acknowledge that a majority of Russians agree with Putin’s tactics — but polls can sometimes be less reliable than we think. Take for example the results of the Crimean referendum. Ninety-seven per cent of people supported annexation by Russia allegedly because those who disagreed were too intimidated to vote.

Failing to make the distinction between Russian policies and Russian people will be detrimental for the region as a whole. There is also a substantial population in Crimea who genuinely identify themselves as Russian despite how illegitimate Putin’s actions might be. They should not be vilified for voting honestly in a dishonest referendum.

Katerina Venzhik, one of the organizers of the “Don’t give it to a Russian” campaign, said they will donate proceeds to the Ukrainian armed forces. This would only heighten military tensions, and potentially lead to the outbreak of violence, something that should not be promoted.

Conflicts based on ethnic divides are among the most violent. This was devastatingly seen in Bosnia in the 1990s, when a conflict between the Bosnian Serb and Muslim communities led to a four-year war resulting in an estimated 200,000 casualties.

I don’t mean to be speculative, but drawing attention to racial divides is dangerous, and that is exactly what this sex strike in Crimea symbolizes. While I applaud these women for their efforts to engage in their own political situation, a sex strike may ultimately lead to more hate and violence.