By Aisha Dukulé
Is this the beginning of Liberia’s Me Too movement? If so, let us not make the same mistake of feminist abroad and ignore the plight of marginalized women.
Liberian women shut down Sajj. For a little while.
While en-route to Mamba Point on Saturday evening; my two girlfriends and I drove slowly as we passed the Tubman boulevard restaurant on its ‘busy night’. Its lights were off and not a single car was insight. By Tuesday, Sajj was operating again. In all fairness they had paid off their debt to society — which the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism of Liberia had priced at $5,500.00.
The entire Sajj saga began with an article penned by Shari Raji, that recalled her entourage’s unfortunate experience of being denied entrance into Sajj because they were unaccompanied by men, whilst watching a white woman also unaccompanied by a man, enter the restaurant without reproach.
The article spread like wildfire, with other Liberian women and men coming out that they had been treated the same or had seen it occur. Soon there were “Boycott Sajj” Facebook profile photo banners, Liberia’s Gender Minister Piso Tarr chimed in and promised to follow-up on the issue and by Friday the likes of activist Madam Cllr. Yvette Chesson Wureh, and former assistant Minister, Kula Fofana, were on the street with placards in hand.
Sajj in response to the snowballing events, put out a statement that left much to be desired. Instead of taking responsibility for their poor management choices, the restaurant and its representatives blamed Liberian women for dressing inappropriately, claiming that the ‘rule’ was instated to protect scantily clad women from being groped by drunk males and to keep out aggressive prostitutes.
To which Saran Kabba Jones of FACE Africa responded: “Does Sajj have a problem with intoxicated male clients? Perhaps Sajj should spend time policing its male clients with a pattern of getting drunk and groping women rather than dictating how women should dress.”
Restaurants have the right to crowd control, but they aren’t allowed to discriminate based upon race. The audacity of a foreign owned establishment in 2018 to deny black women entrance in an African country is fathoming. Especially with the owners belonging to a community that grumbles because they are not allowed citizenship; claiming to have no rights but already treating Liberians like they are second-class citizens.
However, as we learned through the chorus: this occurrence is not new at Sajj. Black women have been denied access to the restaurant for years. But then again, this is of no surprise as the backbone of Liberia is regularly maligned. As we welcome musicians deported for domestic abuse with open arms and pregnant 13-year-olds go missing after a law-maker is accused of rape.
As thankful as I am, of the efforts taken in response to the restaurant’s behavior, it’s seems to have looked past a very important thread of this saga. Sajj is doing this, or at least claims, to do this to keep out Black prostitutes.
This is not the first of this we’ve heard. Several clubs have raised their door prices and made new rules to “keep the prostitutes out.” Is this of no concern?
I ask the impolite question: What about the prostitutes?
The women trafficked and ushered throughout the darker and sometime not so dark crevices of Liberia. The running joke when we see a ‘big-man’ sneaking around, or the 15-year-old girls who whistle and hoot—who Sajj and the rest of the like, pretend that they are trying to get rid of? Most of them come from the hellish backgrounds you could just imagine a prostitute in Liberia would have to endure to survive. Who regularly service the men that frequent these clubs? Is prostitution no longer a crime? Are ‘johns’ no longer criminals? Where’s their placard?
We have very few Stormy Daniels, but too many Oxfams. Women who live without names, because Liberians like to pretend that sex-work, in a country where little girls bodies are held hostage for school grades, is ever really a choice.
Although some Liberian men took the opportunity to draw our attention away from the Sajj saga and toward as they say, “more pressing issues”: the accused mistreatment of workers on rural plantations; the looming coastal highway, and Liberian women’s perceived promiscuity. It is unfortunate that the women who risked their lives to bring them peace, who birth and bathe them are still not a priority.
It is heroic however, the actions of the few women and men whose social and political will drew the closing of the restaurant even for a short time. Hopefully the black eye will take longer to heal and come as a warning. We just hope that the fire and fight stays bright and we don’t leave our sisters alone in the dark.