Liberia: Former German Acro Employee Wants Representative to Tackle Health, Road Constraints Among others

      Hon. Josephine Wolowom Tarpet, a politician in River Gee County

She has worked for the Red Cross Society, the German Acro, and the Opportunity Industrialization Center (OICI). Josephine Wolowom Tarpet says she entered politics to address some of the many barriers to health that women and girls experience in the county.

“I thought that the NGO money was not enough to effect the change that I wanted to see for my people. The people were dying, there were no latrines, children were seated on the floor in their schools, and pregnant women were placed in harmony and taken to the referral clinic. So, I started to intervene, but that was not enough compared to going into the legislature where most of the decisions that affect the lives of the people are made.”

Tarpet is one of the 15% of women candidates in the October elections and one of 10 candidates that ran for the District Two River Gee County representative seat on October 10. She was unsuccessful for the second time in a row (2017/2023). According to National Elections Commission (NEC) data, women hold only 9 of the 88 seats that were up for grabs in the Legislature (Senate and Representative), making the country one of the lowest in Africa despite producing the first female president on the continent.

“Women do not have money. I don’t care if you work for money or earn a salary; it will not be sufficient to put you into politics because whatever money you earn, you have home activities, you have children, and other families are coming to you for assistance. If you fail them, they have a different characteristic for you,” she said. “These are issues that are affecting us, the females who are in politics,” she told an IWMF interview recently in Grand Kru County.

Tarpet began her career as a Red Cross Society volunteer, then as a youth officer. She established youth health clubs in approximately 20 primary and secondary schools throughout the county, disseminating information about girls' education and teen pregnancy, among other things, until May 1, 2006.

This led to her taking on another role at German Acro as a hygiene promoter until July 30, 2010, and then at Opportunity Industrialization Center (OICI) as a WASH field Agent and WASH Officer for the county, installing handpumps, institutional and family latrines, among other things, from November 2010 to 2016.

“While working as a hygiene promoter for German Acro, I started to go around the county. I used to see some other things that were necessary for our people that needed to be done. So, I took up the initiative to work all over the county. I used to encounter some difficulties carrying those things to our people in the remote areas to use safe drinking water and to do the improved method on the toilet.”

Tarpet, the second of five children born to Mr. and Mrs. Tarpet of Fish Town, River Gee County, was born in 1972. She was named a lay leader for the GEE River districts that comprise Grand Gedeh, River Gee, Mary Land, and Grand Kru counties. She graduated from River Gee County's Gbeapo Multilateral, formerly Gbeapo Central High School. She has various professional certificates in her field of specialization (WASH). She thinks there’s no better time than now to represent and give her people the kind of life she had long envisioned for them.

“I prefer a woman being a lawmaker than men because they do not understand the issues the people who elected them are faced with. They do not know the communities that these people live in, as a result, they are not performing their oversight responsibility.”

Tarpet said: “I saw a pregnant woman placed in harmony and taken to a referral clinic two to three hours' walk away from Fish Town due to the challenge with the road. “So from 2013 to 2016, I started to do development for the people. While doing this, I said to myself, is there anything in the parliament called county development fund, and I saw that there was a need to get into higher authority to help my people.”

Tarpet started running her initiatives, opening allies, and building bridges connecting communities and counties. The idea is that citizens from impoverished communities can have access to hospitals, schools, farm-to-market, and develop their communities. The project is self-funded, doing community-to-community engagement, and partnering with these communities to cut the trees and build bridges to make movement easy for the people of Fish Town and nearby counties.

The model has led to the construction of a 48-kilometer bridge worth $US1308.50 from Fish Town connecting villages and towns, excluding the mini road projects she undertook.

In 2021, Tarpet undertook a major bridge rehabilitation project that steered the entire southeast and country. The Gbeapo Joquiken bridge over the Narh or Long River, as it is famously called, had damage making passage impossible for students and citizens of River Gee, Grand Gedeh, Maryland, and Grand Kru.

Women and children were reportedly getting drowned and hurt in the process when Tarpet moved in and brought relief to them. She puts the estimated cost of the rehabilitation work at $US248,000.00. After this, many thought Tarpet would have won the district seat when she, for the second time, expressed interest, but the game was played, and she didn’t make it again.

Credit: James Suah, image of the damaged bridge that was rehabilitated by Tarpet.

“That bridge was broken down completely, nobody was there for the people. I had a lot of names and attributes when I did that project in River Gee, and at the end of the day, cash spoke for the winner.”

She feels frustrated that all of what she did to get the mandate of the people did not materialize. Tarpet has resolved to do the normal way of politics as the men do, “giving electorates money” to vote for her in 2029; it seems to be the easy way of achieving her dream of becoming the representative of the people to continue her developmental initiatives.

“If I have a job for now to be able to earn, I will do proper saving instead of doing developments; our people believe in present deliverables. If you do everything for them, at the end of the day, the cash starts to pass around, they will be chasing the cash, forgetting the past,” Tarpet.

The county is one of two counties in Liberia Southeast that has had zero women in the national legislature since its establishment due to its traditional beliefs that see women in politics as a taboo and a field that is squarely for men. But Tarpet said she’s not relenting on her plan to break that norm.

“I will make sure; I will struggle and I will not relent in going from community to community to educate them until I am elected; I will never leave this job until death do us part.”

Editor’s note: This reporting is supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation and NDI’s VAW-PM Program.