The XX Factor

Guinea’s Public Agenda: Humiliate the Women.

In September, Guinean soldiers burst into a stadium full of government protestors, raped some untold number of women, and killed an estimated 157 people. About 30 rape victims have come out so far; according to witnesses, women were specifically targeted for public humiliation. The current government is responsible for the attack, and, despite graphic cell phone pictures now circulating, says the women are lying. Confronted with evidence that dozens of women in his country were violated with rifle butts in broad daylight, the health minister just says that no one complaining of rape showed up at the hospitals.

I don’t claim to understand rape as a weapon of war, but a concept I’ve found useful in talking about immigration involves women as “boundary markers,” their bodies broadly symbolic of group identity. Political scientist Laura Sjoberg, blogging about the attack in Guinea , argues that women, “the producers/reproducers of the nation,” are “the thing that a belligerent’s soldiers fight for and without whom war has no justification.” In humiliating women, a government can diminish its opponents’ will to fight. And as far as weapons go, rape is cheap.