Reading from the surface of things, it appears Liberian feminism have united all women and girls and their male partners to fight discrimination, violence and inequality targeting vulnerable women of the country. But digging deep under the surface, there also appears an odd impression: that the perceived unity is actually temporary for some of the feminists who carry their own agenda and motive for the advocacy based on where each one’s loyalty lies. And time and seasons have the tendency of exposing that hidden motive, as to whether the advocacy for women and girls is genuine or meant for self-gratification, as the nation as seen in the rather telling social media exchanges between two of the country’s known feminists—novel laureate Leymah Gbowee and Gender and Social Protection Minister Piso Saydee-Tarr. The Analyst reports.
The campaign to end rape or the rampancy of it in Liberia by a group of citizens last week was beclouded by controversies that propped up as a result of the conduct of the protesters and the police. Whether the protest therefore achieved its intended purpose is unclear. But what is clear though, amongst other things, is that it put at loggerheads two of the country’s longtime women advocates and helped the country to have a gist of where they stand from their political and ideological closets.
The war of words between the two feminists followed reported skirmishes between some of the protesters and a section of riot police during the protest—a protest that was expressed meant to showcase public discontent and anger over the rising waves of rape in the country.
It is not known what and who ignited the skirmishes. Some sources say the police acted ultra-virus but other sources also said some of the protesters, who were actually politicized infiltrators, acted unruly.
The aftermath of that altercation have however put two best friends in the ring of verbal war.
Gbowee Laments: “Sick, Appalling and Big Shame”
Whatever the case regarding the police and protesters actions during the street demonstration on rape, the founder and CEO of the Gbowee Foundation, Madam Leymah Gbowee, an internationally exclaimed woman rights advocate, opened the boxing ring.
But in expressing her anger about reported police actions, the Novel Prize Laureate did not limit her target to the police. She drew in the Government of Liberia. She also took direct aim at the Minister of Gender and Social Protection, Piso Tarr who is the first layer of women issues in the country.
“I woke up this morning to news of the government of Liberia clamping down on the peaceful protest organized by young people against the pervasive rape culture in Liberia,” she wrote provocatively on her Facebook Page. “This is sickening, appalling, and a big shame on the Weah-led administration.”
Madam Gbowee further said: “To teargas and use violence on a peaceful gathering led by women against a pandemic is beyond unimaginable.”
Continuing, she drew in Madam Tarr, supposedly her friend and longtime colleague, perhaps suggesting the Gender Minister controls the police and circumstances of the protest. “I call out Minister Piso Saydee Tarr. 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!”
Minister Tarr Growls: Gbowee, “A Generational Underminer”
It seems Minister Tarr, who first lengthily recalled good relations between Madam Gbowee and her, did not think calling her friend to calm the tension would be the right thing to do. Furious, apparently, she also flashed a barrage of tirade at the novel laureate.
“Stop being a generational underminer,” Tarr fired back. “I never thought the day would come to see you stoop this low. And all for what? Your presidential ambition? Yes! Let’s go to the actual issue. You are making accusations about playing politics? Who’s more political than you? Even if Jesus Christ and the angels come down to run Liberia you will still find incessant faults.”
The Gender Minister called on the Nobel laureate not to use the space of civil society as her political platform and carry out political work in a cyber space.
“Go ahead and establish your own political party or even, better yet, officially join the Unity Party – your party of choice – and take your platform to the Liberian people,” Tarr said further.
“Your presidential quest is the actual issue here. Why is your advocacy always only about bringing your friends down? You have to stop your pattern of using others for your personal glorification. You cannot let your ambition be about bringing the entire country down, tearing any and everybody down.”
She continued: “Trust that I will not be a part of the collateral damage package trailing your quest for the presidency. Stop being a generational underminer! Bob Marley said that – you can fool some people sometime but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”
“Today, like always, I am standing up to the bully in you, and at the same time, not giving up on the fight. Let me challenge you to go beyond the obvious, that we all know you will beat your chest about. Get beneath the superficial surface and truly, honestly, sincerely, JOIN patriotic LIBERIANS on the FRONTLINES, from the granular level up, YOU your very self, so that you can actually have an appreciation of present day Liberia and the work that we have on our hands as it regards collectively making our country a better place.”
She asked her colleague further: “Why is it that the only thing Liberians can get out of you, year in-year out is a pile of only negatives? I will not go back to your woes with the previous administration as that is not my business, but you and I know that this Weah-led administration opened up to you from day one, and showed you a hand of friendship, welcoming you as a leader from within our generation, blessed with a huge platform – to come in with your own ideas too to help move the country forward. Yet you choose to snub that hand extended in true cooperation.”
According to Minister Tarr, she does not normally respond to any form of grandstanding but rather concentrate on her work, but told Madam Gbowee that it was “a very necessary quid pro quo that comes as a result of the unwarranted bully assault on my person by someone who should know better. Thanks for all the calls received from concerned friends and relatives.”
“Though at the end of the day, the main issue you all wanted to get clarity on was what went wrong? Everybody’s shock is understandable because this attack came from someone everybody knows as one of my closest friends. My simple answer here is – nothing happened. Nothing at all. My Sister Friend, Nobel Laureate Madam Leymah Gbowee and I have had no beefs, no fights, no misunderstandings of any kind. At least not that I know of.”
She defended herself: “RAPE is an issue that I take very seriously and no one should ever be accused unjustly of being an enabler of rape. 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. Sadly, as a woman who won her laurels on the backs of others, based on advocating for women, you have failed to see in your actions, the same thing you have accused others of doing – trying their best to beat other women down, just for the hell of it – knowing full well that there is no truth to what you are saying; nevertheless, still pushing on in your falsities, for the lack of having anything else to say.”
Tarr said Gbowee professes to be this omniscient being, whereas “we in this administration are a bunch of buffoons – what has been stopping you”.
“What is really stopping you, from giving of this vast knowledge to your people, via this government, the past government, etc.? Since I am not doing my job, what has stopped you from reaching out with your savvy suggestions, emailing or calling me to show me how to do so? What is stopping you from using the same Whatsapp space we talk on ALL the time about all and everything? What has stopped you from making direct inquiries or making an effort? Please my Sis, you will not succeed in using me as a scapegoat in your bid to endear yourself where there is a lack. Liberia belongs to all of us and needs all hands on deck. Especially people like yourself with wealth and connections. Stop ill-treating your country and really come back to base.”
Public Reactions to Both
As often the case, particularly for Facebook media, the public has had varying sides to take on the positions and outrages of both feminists, and the reactions are fairly mixed.
While some are calling for ceasefire, suggesting that the issue of women rights and defense needs concerted action for which these two high profile feminists must have common grounds, some commenters on the pages of Leymah and Piso have been personal.
James Kerkulah, a Liberian, wrote: “Truth be told, Madam Gbowee is a divisive, dishonest and opportunistic person who has gained her fame through the blood and sweat of others. Every time she is given an opportunity, all she does is to divide the country for her own political ambition. She has no leadership qualities.”
This position seemed to be supported by Randy Doe, who wrote: “Madam Gbowee you are too experienced to take this route. Is this a personal attack or a political trap? Is this the Liberia we want to see that we will always condemn situation with some Political undertone? Madam Gbowee, you have all right to play dialogue role with all parties not to use this platform for such. You are a well-respected woman you should not be among those breeding ground for conflict.”
But Odell Swen has a different view. “Thank Sis Leymah for speaking truth to power. For the rest of you, we will not waste our energy responding to your comments,” she wrote.
Amos B. Konneh, who claimed to be supporter of the current government has a beef. He wrote: “I am a supporter of this government but what I saw this morning is a shame on the part of the government through the police.”
For Emmanuel Smith, he said: “I have observed on two separate occasions that the award awarded to her is of no use to the Liberian people. Instead her preaching peace and uniting the Liberian people she is sitting on the fence preaching division. If you want to be politician await 2023. Join the race to see if the librarian people will vote you.”
Then comes Darius Kai St. Patrick who said: “Piso is heading to a real dangerous path. So here is my take: you could take up your time to address Madam Gbowee but you couldn’t address the continue rape, sexual assault and abuse of our Liberian mothers, sisters and little girls. This is only a disgrace to the office you hold but also to your gender.”
Meanwhile, there are reportedly multiple moves by other feminists and male counterparts to calm the tension between Madams Gbowee and Tarr. Emissaries are said to be shuttling between them, including telephone calls, for the two women to drop the hostility against each other and not allow their differences distract from the real issue—rape and violence against women.