In one Colombian town, women say no sex until their demands are met

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: They’ll need plenty of Sriracha in Southwest Columbia and that’s because the heat of passion has vanished from one town there. The women have stopped having sex with their husbands. They’ll begin again, they say, when repairs are made to the roads that connect the town to the outside world. The women’s urgency is clear and the tactic that they took may be working. Reporter John Otis in Bogota has been following the story. Tell us more, John, about why the women have started the so-called ‘crossed leg’ movement.

John Otis: Well, Marco, we’re talking about a little town in Southwest Columbia, called Barbacoa. It’s very isolated. Columbians like to say you go to the end of the earth, take a left, that’s kind of where this place is located. They’ve only got one dirt road leading to the rest of civilization and it’s in terrible shape. It can take up to fourteen hours to get to the next town over, the nearest hospital. The problem is something like a dozen medical patients have died along that road trying to get to the hospital. There have even been pregnant women who have died in the back of ambulances on that road trying to get some medical care. So, in desperation, the women called a sex strike in 2011 that lasted for 38 days and the politicians finally stepped in and said, ‘Okay, we’re going to rebuild that road.’ But then nothing happened for the next two years. So some of the women went back on strike and now, just this month, the Army Corps of Engineers has announced, ‘Yes, we are rebuilding that road,’ and bulldozers are in there and they’re getting going on it, and there appears to be a happy ending this time.

Werman: Well, the road’s not paved yet. Is there any possibility that the army could fall asleep on the job again and not get it done?

Otis: That’s always a possibility here in Columbia. There’s a lot of corruption. Money runs out and you can have long stretches of pavement then suddenly you have gravel and you have to slam on the brakes.

Werman: It’s interesting, though. It’s not a story about people in this town having a smooth, cushy ride on a new tarmac. It’s kind of life and death, isn’t it?

Otis: It certainly is, Marco, and that’s sort of a wider problem in Columbia. Roads are bad here all over the country. There’s three Andean mountain ranges so building roads is tough. There’s a guerilla war going on so it can be dangerous to go in and repair roads. I mean, even the good roads are bad. Just to get a container, for example. If you’re going to send a container of Columbian goods to China, it’ll cost you more to bring it to a Columbian port than to get it from that Columbian port all the way across the other side of the world to China.

Werman: Wow, that’s incredible. Not to get lost in stereotypes, John, but Columbia is a passionate country. Has this strike been a big water cooler topic like in Bogota?

Otis: It’s been an interesting issue. I mean, one of the reasons you do call a sex strike is to get some media attention and to get the attention of the politicians, to sort of embarrass people into taking action. And so, it’s been done here in Columbia several times. In fact, back in the 90’s when war was going really badly, the head of the Columbian forces came out on national television and suggested that the wives and girlfriends of the guerillas go on a sex strike to sort of force a peace treaty, to force their men to negotiate with the government. Columbians were sort of amazed because it almost sounded like this was going to be the national strategy of the army to go forward with the war. There was a lot of joking about it.

Werman: (Laughs) It’s in the Columbian tool box. I’m curious, John, what’s the shape of your driveway at home there in Bogota?
Otis: The road up to my house is in pretty bad shape, I have to admit. Sometimes you just have to drive a four-wheel drive around here.

Werman: Just curious. Reporter John Otis in Bogota, thanks so much.

Otis: Thanks a lot, Marco.