Disgusted is what we are at this point. Gender, Children and Social Protection Minister Piso Saydee Tarr finally spoke from her lofty platform Friday, on the heels of the peaceful protest against rape. But it was not to decry the sexual abuse of women, girls and boys. It was not to commend campaigners for their peaceful and constructive engagement. It was not to pledge her support, or report to them her own efforts towards their objectives. Most notably, the Minister’s statement was not to condemn the brutal treatment of protestors at the hands of the police. It was to cry in her own defense because her sister-friend dared confront her publicly for her deafening silence.
So here’s the tea: Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee had taken to Facebook on Thursday decrying the violence against protestors and calling out Minister Tarr for placing political loyalty over her duty to the citizenry. Tarr, in response, went on a tirade, pulling out dirty laundry (and what seemed like pent up jealousy?) to hit back. She accused Gbowee of criticizing the Government – admittedly the favorite pastime of a deeply dissatisfied public, these days. She even criticized Gbowee for exercising her God given right to political ambition. Shocking!
We won’t attempt to judge palava between an adult and a Minister too sensitive for the kitchen’s heat. We will however address ourselves to the person whose LEGAL RESPONSIBILITY it is, at the very least, to speak up for the welfare of Women and Children.
Minister Tarr: Leymah Gbowee has no obligation to tell you how to do a job you accepted. She, along with the entire citizenry, has every right to criticize you. Friend, bridesmaid or not. Also, other women did approach you months ago with similar petitions to the ones the protestors made last week. We have it on good authority that you brought partisan women to that meeting to intimidate them and to ask why these petitioners never spoke up before and are suddenly so angry about rape. We don’t know where to begin to answer that preposterous question steeped in inexplicable defensiveness.
Your intransigence and inaction are exactly what has invited the criticism you now decry. And, whether you think you deserve it or not, it’s your job to take it like a woman.
Let us put that into perspective for you: the sting of public criticism is nowhere near as severe or as long lasting as that of having episodes of sexual violation be the very earliest memories of your own existence. The shame, self loathing and suicidal ideation that results from such experiences is what hundreds, thousands of children are experiencing today, while you are whining about how your friend spoiled what little name you have.
Here’s a word of advice for a stateswoman: throw your tantrums in private. When you are making a public statement, stick to the issues that matter. Stick to your job: standing up for the rights and protection of women and children. They call that professionalism.
We took that straight out of the playbook of a woman who showed up for Liberia’s women, while you were hiding last week: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. We butt heads many a day with the Iron Lady and lived to tell the story. Why? Because she honored our constitutional right and responsibility to criticize her as harshly as we did. We appreciated that she would call and respond firmly if she disagreed with our reporting or editorials. We respected that she would maintain her dignity and just continue doing the work of the people, regardless of how unfair she often felt we were.
If you have not taken the lashes that woman has taken and you’re already wailing, then it’s time you left the seat. The women of Liberia need someone made of tougher stuff, who can stand up with them, when their own government turns against them.
To balance the equation, we must express our irritation with Leymah Gbowee. If the allegations of her political ambitions are true, what has she been waiting for? If she had talked soon, maybe we wouldn’t be in this mess! How do you suck your teeth in writing?