LIBERIA: Gender Minister, Nobel Laureate Must Be On The Same Side, Rallying Forces Against Rape

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THE EXCHANGES between Liberia’s Gender and Children Protection Minster and a famous Nobel laureate has the tenacity to undercut the strides protesters have been making in recent days, demanding more rigorous and robust action to curb the increasing incidents of rape in the country.

MINISTER PISO Saydee-Tarr and Madam Leymah Gbowee are no strangers to one another and they are also no novices to the devastating threats of sexual and gender-based violence in the country. In fact, the pair has worked together in the same office, syncing strategies to provide empowerment for Liberian girls and women. Therefore, it is baffling to witness what appears to be an acrimonious exchange between the two.

GBOWEE DOES not hold back her punches; we are very aware. Her 2019 oration during the country’s 172nd Independence Anniversary raffled feathers as she called out the divisiveness brewing in a country  with a brutal past of tribal conflicts that was manifested in a ruthless civil war.

WHEN SHE OPTED to criticize the government and security forces actions against peaceful protesters, calling for a more robust action against rape, she also held the Gender Minister’s feet to the fire. In her mind, Saydee-Tarr was not doing enough to protect the protesters.

SAID GBOWEE: “Shame on you! Your job demands that you protect the most vulnerable population of Liberia, but you have chosen to align with your political God father. Minister Tarr, who plays politics with the tearing of a three-Year-old vagina? To say I am mad would be putting it mildly. I am angry, infuriated, boiling inside… if you had done your job void of politics we won’t be where we find ourselves. Sad, sad, sad…”

AND SAYDEE-TARR, in a response which she described as a “sister-to-sister conversation” initiated by Gbowee, accused the Nobel laureate of trying to “beat other women down, just for the hell of it”.

“I KNOW THAT POLITICS is interest – but to use this serious scourge to gain points against anybody, shows one’s true colors. Now Sis, remember when you became a Nobel Laureate, the people YOU called YOUR friends stood alongside you, were there for you, placed their arms around you and supported you. NO lessons learned there for you? The least you can do is reciprocate in an authentic way.”

WHILE WE RESPECT the views of two of Liberia’s most outstanding daughters and women rights activists, we want to slam the mood of fussing and fighting that have ensued between them. We think this niggling and ranting will take away from the protesters the attention they have sought for almost a week. The protesters want action against rape and the two must help this cause and not tear it down.

WHILE WE THINK Gbowee was being Gbowee when she called out Saydee-Tarr to ensure the protection of peaceful protesters, we think it has put a new spin on the protest – a scenario many would consider a political wrangling between two persons that should be rallying against rape.

EVEN BEFORE Madam Gbowee made her Facebook post, there were growing inklings that the protest was politically motivated. As ridiculous as this sounds, ruling out the possibility of this sentiment gaining traction is foolhardy. In fact, some have said the protesters had a intent of bad-mouthing the Weah-led government.

THE TWO LADIES should be on the same side. In fact, if they are committed to curbing the menace of rape, they should set aside their ego and work together. They have done it before and must do it again no matter the political divergence. Saydee-Tarr’s response to Madam Gbowee’s criticism as published in FrontPageAfrica reveals to the public the kindredship they have enjoyed in their lifetime. It seems to us that sweeping this under the carpet is imminent.

IT IS ONLY MOST important that the two ladies spare us the drama and rally against rape. We, like many observers, know that it is improbable for an official of government like Saydee-Tarr, who works at the will and pleasure of the president, may criticize the action of the police or even criticize the government. But a Gender Minister must protect the general interest of woman including battling social vices. She should also be ready to stomach criticisms especially when it comes from a family or relative.

RAPE IS THE COMMON enemy here and every good citizen — government official or civil society actor — must stand together. With over 960 cases of rape reported so far this year, the urge to augment policies and reform the legal framework to end rape are becoming even more demanding. But with divided opinions compounded by political sentiments against the ongoing protest and the President ignoring the demands of the protest, it is time for women to stand together if they want to end rape.

WE THINK IT does not matter which side you are, once you are a woman, you are vulnerable to the venom of rape. This is why, when we begin to witness the staggering war of words between two women known for fighting against rape, we become pessimistic that succeeding against this brutal crime is farfetched.

WHILE THE RANTING and misperceptions about the protest undermines the rationale of the campaign, the next rapist may just be trying to lure the next victim. This is why we need all hands on deck if we must end rape.

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