THE VERBAL HOSTILITIES that ensued between the Minister of Gender and Social Protection, Hon. Piso Saydee-Tarr, and Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee are unfortunate distractions from a vexing social problem—rape. Rape, as well as all other violence and discrimination against women, constitutes a clear and present danger to this country, particularly reading from frequency and cruelty at which it occurs nowadays. The other day, for instance, it was reported that an alleged rape perpetrator had a gut to lacerate the private part of a minor to make his evil design against the survivor possible anyhow. Was he forced to defile the girl? What a cruelty?
AND THE PROBLEM IS not only that rape and the maltreatment of women and girls in Liberia is getting dastardly and that the rapidity and rampancy is getting out of hand despite making the crime unbailable; the problem is we, as a people, sadly including those who assign themselves direct responsibility to find solution, are merely acting like actors and actresses. We remain superficial, lip-serviced and hypocritical in our deeds, while our words remain thunderous and sharp in the public space.
TWO LIBERIANS, SUPPOSEDLY frontline, self-styled advocates for women and girls, proved that assertion right the other day. Their verbal tirades against each over a police-protesters skirmish at a public demonstration to denounce rape and to increase pressure on stakeholders to address the pandemic show the how true it is that lip-service and superficial are the approach most Liberians accord serious advocacy issues, particularly women issues.
IN THE FIRST PLACE, Leymah Gbowee sidestepped the most contentious issue by targeting a fellow self-acclaimed feminist when she held in contempt and flash odd words at the Ministry of Gender. Piso-Tarr does not control police action. The President of Liberia does not control riot police actions spontaneously. If something sparked up instantaneously and there was a police action, rightly or wrongly, how does it amount to “shame on Piso Tarr” and her relationship with her “failed political godfather”. And in the second place, Piso Tarr’s “generational underminder” targeting the reputation of Gbowee, amongst other exhaustive tirades, were not called for.
That’s not what Liberians expect of them, particularly at this time.
THE ISSUE AND the debate that Liberians, particularly vulnerable women and girls of sexual gender-based violence, want to hear from the statures of Gbowee and Tarr and other professed advocates on feminist issues is sensible solutions, not the usual “Liberian women outbursts.” While these two well-known Liberian personalities must have been pushing their respective agendas towards the fight against rape and other anti-women violence, their recent outbursts against each has created more distractions away from the intent of the protest against rape than even the police-protesters altercation that put their loggerheads.
THE MEDIA IS currently reporting the bitter exchanges between the two women more than they are doing about the outcome of the protest, let alone the police action that sparked their hate speeches.
Both women therefore have the onus to redeem their images dinted for what they have done against the general campaign against rape. And thank God it is said they have had no prior bad blood and that they had been good longtime friends. And one way they would save the day is to first reestablish relations and hold a joint press conference not only to assure Liberians that the feminist movement in Liberia is still intact but also to outline how they would reignite public awareness and action against the rape pandemic in the coming days and months.
AS IT STANDS, they would defeat the campaign against this very serious pandemic if they don’t show unity of purpose, since they are two of Liberia’s outstanding personalities on women issues. They both carry respective supporters in the feminist community that leads the whole campaign. Divided as both seems now—one representing the government that needs to take actions on the issues at bay and the other from the civil society that needs to push up the issues to the government—evidenced by their exchanges lately, the campaign against rape is clearly hampered.
This is self-defeating, particularly in the face of the fact that the monster being fought, rape, is alive, ever-potent and ever-destructive. We have to fight back. And fighting back means fighting problem, which is rape, and not fighting each other.