Liberia: A Government with Two Tongues – Weah and His Officials Must Speak with One Voice on Sexual & Gender-Based Violence

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MINISTER FAHNGON may very well be doing his job, but his tone and condescending response to women, many of whom have had their daughters, sisters and mothers fallen prey to rapist, does not bode well for the government’s agenda on SGBV.

IN THE MIDST of a major National Conference on Sexual and Gender-Based Violence last week, Mr. Eugene Fahngon, Deputy Minister of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism, took to the social medium, Facebook to labeled protesters who recently staged a peaceful three-day protest to draw attention to the alarming wave of sex abuse and assault, as troublemakers.

MINISTER FAHNGON WROTE: “The National Conference on SGBV is going extremely well; but I don’t see any of the troublemakers around…Why?”

WHILE WE EMBRACE the government’s effort to address the issue of rape and sexual-based violence, we frown strongly on efforts by some officials like Fahngon, who continue to push hateful and chaotic messages, aiming to put the government against anyone speaking truth to power, or drawing the government’s attention to the issue of rape.

THOSE WOMEN WHO stood in the hot sun for three days making their voices are not troublemakers, but mothers, sisters, grandmothers and relatives of victims of rape.

LABELING THEM as troublemakers undercuts whatever gainst President Weah and his administration are hoping to make with the conference on SGBV.

MORE IMPORTANTLY, in throwing shades at anti-rape protesters, Mr. Fahngon failed to state whether the government ever sent out an invitation to those women or even included them in the discussions on a burning issue affecting them.

MADAM NAOMI TULAY SOLANKE, Executive Director of the Community Healthcare Initiative, speaking to FrontPageAfrica last week lamented that the government, through the Ministry of Gender and Social Protection failed to recognize and extend invitations to key stakeholders to enable them attend the national event.

MADAM SOLANKE, also a member of the “We are Unprotected” campaign group, a movement raising awareness against Sexual and Gender-Based Violence against women and girls in the country, observed that leaders of girls and women advocacy organizations, including those who were mostly part of the three-day protest against the escalating cases of rape in Liberia were the ones particularly snubbed from attending the National Conference.

WHILE WE JOIN the President in urging all Liberians, activist, advocates along with local and international stakeholders to work with the government in defeating the scourge of rape in the country, we also urge the administration to tone down the negative and condescending rhetoric coming from officials like Fahngon, whose only motive is to undercut and undermine gains made on curbing widespread abuse and theft of youthful adolescence.

MADAM SOLANKE added that despite being an active member of the National Civil Society Council of Liberia (NCSL), she was not accorded the opportunity to engage and brainstorm with other Liberian women and partners in finding solutions to SGBV issues in the country, even though the group was reportedly extended invitations to give to them. “There were invitations given to the Civil Society Council. I am a member of the Civil Society Council and they didn’t invite me. WONGOSOL was also given an invitation to invite women organizations within their network; they didn’t invite any of us. So, we knew that it was something deliberate because it’s just impossible for the National Civil Society Council to see someone that is active less important. It’s not even me, but Brandy, Facia and other women that were part of the three-day protest”.

THE WOMEN ACTIIVIST questioned the yardstick or criteria used by the two CSOs organizations to select participants of the conference, denying others the opportunity to articulate their views.

MINISTER FAHNGON, contacted by FPA last week, said an open invitation was extended to civil society groups in the country by the government to attend the conference and pointed out that the government did not write any official invitation to a particular group of CSO operating in the country to attend the national event. “The government gave out an open invitation to civil society groups. The government, at no point in time, writes an official letter to one particular group. Taking into consideration a national conference on rape-it was not a conference to call one particular group or stakeholder”.

MINISTER FAHNGON may very well be doing his job, but his tone and condescending response to women, many of whom have had their daughters, sisters and mothers fallen prey to rapist, does not bode well for the government’s agenda on SGBV.

ALL THIS DOES is show that President Weah, has apparently fallen victim to mixed messages, a trend that continues to cause his administration unnecessary problems.

EVERY TIME the government appears to be taking two steps forward, some official of government brings the government back two steps; every time there is some positive news coming out of the government, a negative news, mostly by its own doing often follow.

LAST WEEK’S CONFERENCE on SGBV was a good step. The President issued a proclamation declaring RAPE a ‘National Emergency after Cabinet convened and received the National Anti Rape & SGBV Roadmap.

THE ROADMAP on SGBV which evolved deliberations of Inter-Ministerial Task Force was validated by the National Anti-Rape & Sexual & Gender Based Violence (SGBV) Conference held at the Ministerial Complex on September 8 – 9, 2020.

UNDER THE NATIONAL RAPE EMERGENCY, the President has announced initial measures to include, the appointment of a Special Prosecutor for rape, the setting up of a National Sex Offender Registry, the establishment of a National Security Task Force on SGBV, the allotment of an initial amount of USD Two Million (USD$2,000,000) to fund and beef up the fight against rape and SGBV.

THE PRESIDENT AVERRED that the issuance of the proclamation, signals that his administration will spare no effort in ensuring that the epidemic of rape and SGBV is curtailed.”

WHILE WE JOIN the President in urging all Liberians, activist, advocates along with local and international stakeholders to work with the government in defeating the scourge of rape in the country, we also urge the administration to tone down the negative and condescending rhetoric coming from officials like Fahngon, whose only motive is to undercut and undermine gains made on curbing widespread abuse and theft of youthful adolescence.

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