Belgium is closing in on an undesirable world record. As of Tuesday, it has gone 247 days without a government after holding elections last June. In just a few days, the country will pass a mark set by Iraq, which went 252 days between voting and forming a new government. In an attempt to break the stalemate, one Belgian senator — a former gynecologist — has an idea to motivate politicians: Have their spouses withhold sex until a government is formed. Here, a brief guide to Belgium's proposed sex strike:
What exactly has been proposed?
Socialist Senator Marleen Temmerman has called on politicians' spouses to withhold sex until a deal is reached. "Have no more sex until the new administration is posing on the steps of the Palace," she said in a Belgian newspaper.
What inspired her?
Temmerman got the idea while in Kenya last month. There, in 2009, a government was formed after a sex ban that lasted just a week. She was also inspired by a Belgian actor named Benoit Poelvoorde, who sought to pressure politicians with a "grow a beard" campaign, as well as the ancient Greek play Lysistrata, in which women help to end the Peloponnesian war by withholding sex.
Why can't Belgium form a government in the first place?
The country is greatly divided between the French-speaking south and the richer, Dutch-speaking north. Immigrants from elsewhere in Europe and from North Africa complicate the mix. No one won a parliamentary majority in the June 2010 elections, and the parties have since failed to cobble together a governing coalition. "The two sets of politicians, who have been in linguistically separate parties since the 1970s, see little advantage in talking to each other any more," says John Lichfield in The Independent. "Their interests and, crucially, their careers have become regional, not national."
What does Belgium think of a sex strike?
Temmerman hasn't received direct responses from her fellow politicians, but she says about 80 percent of the reactions from the public have been positive. "Ten to 20 percent who don't have a sense of humour were upset," she says. "It's hilarious that people take it so seriously."
Have other sex strikes worked?
Some have. There was the successful 2009 sex ban in Kenya. And in 2006, girlfriends of Colombian gang members gave up sex until their men gave up their violent ways. Their "strike of crossed legs" seems to have helped. The local murder rate has since plummeted.
But are sex strikes sexist?
Some think so. "While it's understandable that women might assert political power this way," says Kira Cochrane in The Guardian, "sex strikes are also clearly problematic, reasserting old ideas of men as sexually predatory and essentially entitled to sex, while women must protect their honor at all costs, and can only effect change through their bodies."