Anti-rape protesters reject President Weah’s proxies sent to receive petition
By Hannah N. Geterminah and Tina S. Mehnpaine
Dozens of protesters on Tuesday, August 25, 2020, gathered in their numbers in Monrovia with a petition calling on the Government of Liberia to strengthen the justice system that will allow rape survivors to get justice as a means of putting to end the harmful act against women, girls, and boys, but refused to hand it over to Gender and Social Protection Minister Williametta Sayde-Tarr and her Deputy, Mamensie Kaba, both officials sent by President George Weah to receive the petition.
The protesters contended that if they had the intent to meet ministers, they would have taken the petition to the Gender ministry, but the issue of rape was a serious matter that requires the presence of the President to receive the petition and not ministers who have heard the alarming rape cases but have yet to show any concern.
The protesters began their march from the Vamoma House in Sinkor, through the Tubman Boulevard, shouting anti-rape slogans, “No means no; Mamiewata carries rapists; Enough is enough; It’s time to create safe environment; It is time for us to work together to end rape and Declare rape as National Emergency.”
The protesters claim they have written numerous petitions to government ministries including of Gender and of Justice that are responsible for investigating rape cases across the country. However, according to the organizers, there has been no redress as the social menace continues to increase. Therefore, they want to meet President George Manneh Weah himself to explain the difficulties women are faced with in Liberia as it relates to rape. President Weah had declared himself Liberia’s “Feminist-in-Chief” with the hope of addressing issues relating to women and girls, but the alarming rape cases in the country sparking up protest just undermines his self-declaration and questions the President’s true intent to address the plight of women and girls.
Patience S. Koteah, a protester who spoke to the Ministers on behalf of the group, said they have not gone as political actors, but as aggrieved citizens to represent children who have been sexually abused and need justice.
“Thank you, Honorable Ministers, for coming to speak to us,” She said. “There is an increase in rape across Liberia and this has drawn our attention as women and child rights advocates, but many a time, we bring forth petitions and recommendations to work together with government and we are denied the opportunity.
“We have taken petitions to various ministries that are responsible for justice in Liberia; we have engaged the national government through the Office of the President to establish a national task force against rape and that document is on his desk, but each time we go to his office to do follow up, we would be ignored. So, this time around we are not here for political talks because our children are dying; we come here to meet the Feminist-in-Chief, who will clearly understand our message,” Koteah told the Ministers.
Responding to the protesters and defending her position, Minister Saydee-Tarr said the President was not informed about the protesters’ demand and therefore he could not come down to receive the petition. Minister Saydee-Tarr, however, assured the protesters that she was going to inform the President so that he can meet with their leaders.
She said the protesters have been following their works as it relates to rape that has to lead the President to establish an inter-ministerial task force that comprises the different ministries in government to fight rape in the communities.
After awaiting the President’s response for hours, the protesters proceeded to the Capitol, where they presented their petition to lawmakers with the decision to return today (Wednesday, August 26), at which time the Feminist-in-chief should be ready to receive the petition from them.
Irene N. Smith, 14 and a 7th-grade student who read the petition on behalf of the group to members of the 54th Legislature, said: “Today, we stand at a significant point in our history as a nation. A point that has the propensity to secure a bright future for this current generation and others to come, or take us backward and undo some of the significant strides we have made to make our country great again.”
Irene told the lawmakers that Liberia has a pandemic on hand called rape that has hundreds of cases across the country and the number keeps climbing.
She said mothers and daughters are under attack on a daily basis by predators that have no fear of bearing the full weight of the law, adding that the outrageous acts are only persisting because the justice system is so weak that perpetrators commit these atrocities and go with impunity.
“As the first branch of government and direct representative of the people,” said Irene, “you are to push the best interest of the people, and that is why we have come peacefully to beseech you to see a reason to take the necessary step, make the relevant decisions, and take a stand against these inhumane acts.”
She told the lawmakers that they have an important role to play in making drastic changes that are needed to end the menace.
The protesters, in their petition, called for an increment in the FY2020/2021 budget for Criminal Court ‘E’ to strengthen it for speedy trials for Sexual and Gender-Based Violence cases (SGBV).
They also called for budgetary support to the health care delivery systems to ensure that all counties have functional safe homes, to the Women and Children Protection Division of the Liberian National Police to facilitate training, logistics, and equipment.
The petition also calls for an increased legislative oversight in various government ministries and agencies that deal with rape, hosting town halls meetings in various constituencies, and commencing a public hearing within two weeks on SGBV with key stakeholders.
Lawmakers who received the petition included Representatives Julie F. Wiah, Lofa County District #2 lawmaker and the House chair on Gender Equity, Child Division and Social Services; J. Melvin Cole of Bong County District #3; P. Mike Jurry of Maryland County District #1; and Thomas A. Goshua, II of Grand Bassa County District #5.
Rep. Wiah, speaking on behalf of her colleagues, said they will commence a public hearing within two weeks on SGBV with key stakeholders, especially the institutions working with the sectors to discuss solutions to the pandemic.