Monday, October 12, 2009

Guinea: My Thoughts

Dear MILEAD Sisters,
we have read and talked about Guinea a lot in the past few weeks. It is a pity that it is usually bad news that brings a country into the spotlight. Throughout my reflections on the issue, two things continue to strike me:

1. Why rape as a tool of oppression/punishment/war? How has sex been constructed in our society such that it can be used to "punish" women in the domestic, social or political sphere? I think one way of answering this question is to understand first of all how the male and female bodies have been socially constructed in our settings.

I am definitely no expert on the issue. As the title of this post suggests, these are my thoughts. My musings as an African womn who observes her surroundings and is very concerned by a number of things. Some of you may remember that I once said in class that I shout at men who urinate by the side of the road in order to "shame" them into stopping their nasty actions. I still marvel at how increasingly brazen men have become in Ghana, in exposing their penises. They no longer face a wall to do their business, Oh no. I have now seen men urinating anywhere they please, their penises and their faces right in the middle of the road/path.

What is the link to rape in Guinea? Bear with me, we will get there.

I have not seen a women urinate in public the same way men do. Women who urinate outside must squat (biology demands it, I suppose), but they must squat in the bushes, behind trees or behind a wall. In effect, they remain hidden. Are you starting to get my drift?

Through something as commonplace as urinating, we get a glimpse of how the male and fermale bodies, especially the male and female sex, are constructed. Men may bare their goods to the world. Indeed, it is a source of pride, posterity, the bigger the better etc. Women must hide their sex, their bodies. It is a source of shame, of temptation, of sin. Again the link to rape? Stay with me.

So here we have the male sex organ as an image of strength, imbued with the moral authority to punish a woman. Is this too far a leap? Think back to half the rape cases you have heard of on our continent and the age old defense "she was asking for it." Indeed just last weekend my grandmother admonished me against going out in shorts or else "the boys will attack you and rape you." She was not lying. It's happened. Boys and men in Ghana have been known to rape a woman because she "deserved it. She was dressed like an ashawo, a whore." Are we closer to rape in Guinea? In Liberia? In the DRC?

Perhaps not, because I do not know how the male and female bodies are constructed in these settings. But if they are anything like Ghana, then the recent mass rape of women in Guinea does not come as a schock to me. In fact it is simply an extreme (but inevitable) manifestation of sexual patriarchy.

In a nutshell, patriarchy is not limited to the economic realm, to job opportunities or to whether or noy a woman can be a pilot. Patriarchy is PERVASIVE on our continent, from who has the right to pleasure in sex, to who has the right to be abusive in a relationship, all the way to who has the right to "punish" a woman for the use of her body.

What does all this mean to us? Stay tuned for Guinea: My Thoughts II.

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