Liberia: Government Shuts SAJJ House Restaurant Indefinitely for Discrimination
Monrovia – The Lebanese-owned and run entertainment spot, which has come under heavy criticisms in recent times for denying entry to ‘single black’ Liberian women, has now have its doors closed indefinitely by the Liberian government. In addition to other measures, it has also been fined US$3,000, to be delivered in government’s coffer.
Report by Mae Azango, [email protected]
The government’s decision immediately follows a protest action Friday, May 11, in front of SAJJ on 18th Street in Sinkor, by mainly a group of young Liberian women. One prominent Liberian women’s activist, Madam Cllr. Yvette Chesson Wureh, joined the younger women in the protest before SAJJ.
The government, through its Assistant Minister for Cultural Affairs and Tourism, Ms. Princess Turkulon, executed the closure of SAJJ indefinitely until certain conditions are met.
“Denying single black women from entering and allowing single white women entrance, is not fair. You cannot be operating a business in my country with that kind of policy, so this is why I have come to shut down this business. I do not know when it will be opened,” said Asst. Min. Turkulon.
She made the remarks in front of the restaurant where the protesters were standing with placards having inscriptions against SAJJ’s management’s policy of segregation.
Some of the protesting women’s placards read, “Violence against one is violence against all; Women have their own money; Black Liberian women have the right to go wherever they want to go without being discriminated against. I have the right to be unaccompanied by a male, respect that SAJJ; Smash Racism, SAJJ respect Liberian Women.”
Speaking further Ms. Turkulon stated that SAJJ’s policy of denying unaccompanied single black ladies by their male counterparts is “spoiling the government’s name. You cannot own a business and discriminate against the women of Liberia.”
According to her, SAJJ has not spoken to her regarding the real issue but only said the security at the gate stopped the women from entering. “How can that be when the security guards were acting on instructions given them? I heard about this attitude; I decided to come here as a single lady just to experience it myself before closing it down.
On my way, I heard that the women of Liberia were here protesting.”
A former female Assistant Minister and a women’s rights advocate, Kula Fofana, too, was among the protesters holding a placard.
“We should not be discriminated against because we are not accompanied by men. For this reason, my five dollars will not come to SAJJ until they change their policy. Since they are implying that single black women are prostitutes, therefore I am calling on every young woman to boycott SAJJ,” Ms. Fofana added.
Cllr. Yvette Chesson Wureh, who heads the Women’s Situation Room, had just arrived back in the country, went straight way to join the women, who were already assembled and protesting.
Holding a placard, too, she stated, “Come on my people, this is Liberia and not South Africa. I was so angry when I arrived in Liberia few minutes and heard the news so I came straight here, because I rather die first than to see this kind of discrimination go on against Liberian women and say nothing about it. We the women of Liberia are decent and can be your mothers and sisters so we need to be treated with respect.”
Mrs. Brenda Brewer Moore of Kids Education Engagement Program (KEEP), a victim of SAJJ’s policy, explained her ordeal.
“My girls and I came out one evening for a drink; we had our own money but to our surprise, we were denied entry into SAJJ while a single white lady was allowed.
Therefore, we are here in front of SAJJ speaking as women of Liberia with one voice, to stop discrimination against Liberian women.”
Ms. Facia Harris, a prominent female journalist, was also among the peaceful demonstrators.
“I have the right to go out for a drink without being accompanied by a male because I have my own money. You cannot tell me not to enter an entertainment spot because I am a single black woman, but single white women are free to walk in unaccompanied. This has been going on for too long, and we have reached the breaking point, enough is enough. You cannot stop me from entering your entertainment area because I am not escorted by a man. Should I hijack a male to bring me to eat when I have my own money? You either change your policy or shut your business down.”
Unis Dahn of the “Me Too Movement” disclosed that since 2012, SAJJ has had this bad policy in place against single Liberian women, who are unaccompanied by men.
“We will not allow Liberian women to be disrespected by SAJJ and any other business in Liberia. There are many single black women who are working and owning their own businesses; they are not prostitutes,” Ms. Dahn stressed.
Ms. July-tah Mulbah, another victim of the bad policy, said she had experienced this back in 2014 and does not wish for another Liberian girl to go through the same thing.
“I was humiliated when I was denied entry the first time. The second time when I was denied, I decided to put on recording other women who were also being denied. In the process the security guards were instructed to forcibly take my phone from me and delete all the photos. I am so excited today that it is now in the media and we are here to make sure it does not happen again.”
Some men found time to join the protest. Mr. Boima T. K. Jenabayan said he was there to represent his wife, who had gone to pick up their daughter from school. His placard read: “Smash racism, SAJJ respect Liberian Women.”
He insisted that the Lebanese-owned business was practicing racism and discrimination against Liberians and must be made to render an apology or be shut down.
SAJJ became really exposed few days ago when three young ladies, who had gone ahead of their male friends, were denied entry even after the female security guard had searched the handbag of one of the ladies. When their male friends arrived and while confronting the security guards about this bad attitude, an unaccompanied single white lady walked past them and entered without being stopped.
The three ladies took to social media to bring to the limelight this segregation, following which they received tons of supports and other victims came forward, too, to speak of their humiliations.
On the protest day last Friday, one of those three ladies, Ms. Shari L.O. Raji, who had removed the lit from bad policy, read their position statement asking all women to boycott SAJJ: “For over a year or more now, SAJJ House Restaurant in Sinkor, Monrovia, a Lebanese-owned establishment has persistently banned ‘single ladies’ unaccompanied by men from entering their Restaurant.
Recent complaints highlight that the sexist policy is in fact enforced only on single-black females. White women have been allegedly seen entering the premise of the Restaurant without the hassle given to their black counterparts.
According to an official statement from Sajj House Restaurant management on May 7th, 2018, published on their Facebook page, they denied having such policy, but mentioned that measures are in place to regulate, and control crowd to ensure customers’ safety and comfort.
Legally, they can regulate crowd control due to space limitations but should not be based on race, gender or any discriminatory reasons.
Meanwhile, security guards of the establishment have openly told clients being refused entry that the refusal is due to the influx of prostitutes who bother their male customers.
Sajj denies such policy existed. In so doing, they are discounting the experiences of tons of Liberian women as shared over the years.
We (Liberian women and men against Sajj racist and sexist policy) campaign for a BOYCOTT of Sajj House Restaurant until the following demands are met:
An official public apology for the discrimination against Liberian women
An official announcement (through print and radio media & posted on their premise) accounting that the current discriminatory policy against women is abolished
An official announcement, ensuring and indicating the new measures that will replace the current disruptive policy
Please sign this petition to join the cause against discrimination and gender profiling.
We must ensure the respect of fundamental liberties and human rights.”
Below is the Liberian Government’s Official Statement on SAJJ’s Closure
The Tourism Department of Ministry of Information Culture Affairs and Tourism has with immediate effect suspended the tourism license of SaJJ Restaurant and Bar following a complaint filed by aggrieved Liberian women and a subsequent investigation by the department.
The protesting women brought to the attention of the Ministry of Information, which is the regulatory body for tourism (to include operations of restaurants, discos, casinos etc,) that SAJJ House Restaurant has over the years implemented a discriminatory policy which prohibits single black women from entering without a male companion but was not applicable to non-black women, the women groups alleged. The department’s investigation revealed that SAJJ did implement such policy which is discriminatory and in violation of our tourism regulations and prohibited by the Constitution. As such, the Ministry having met with both the Management of SAJJ and the protesters on Saturday, May 12, 2018, has decided the following which include the demands of the women:
1. Suspend SAJJ license thereby shutting down their operations until a set of actions are met.
2. A fine of US$3000 paid in gov’t revenue and copy of receipt to be delivered to the Ministry
3. An Apology to the affected group (s) – women of Liberia – for their action of discrimination against them and publish said apology in at least two newspapers.
4. SAJJ institutes a CSR Project not less than US$2500 to identify and support a local NGO that works with disadvantaged young women.
5. Remain closed until all of the above conditions are met.