Monrovia, Liberia –
Thursday June 20, 2019, Liberia’s First Lady, Madam Clar Marie Weah, launched her latest initiative, the “She’s You Movement”. To commemorate the movement, the First Lady, together with Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor, was joined by the First Ladies of Ivory Coast and Niger, as well as Ghana’s First Lady, Rebecca Naa Okaikor Akufo-Addo, and Sierra Leone’s First Lady, Fatima Jabbie Bio.
Report Co-Authored by: Adrienne Tingba and Ingel Clay
As a focal point of the movement, Madam Weah highlighted the empowerment of Liberian women through agriculture. Likewise, she stated that through agricultural empowerment, disadvantaged Liberian women were likely to undergo fewer instances of abuse from their male partners. She also highlighted that another goal of the “She’s You Movement” is to advocate against domestic violence, rape, maternal mortality, and other grave issues largely affecting women in the republic.
Although it all sounds great to the ears, and is beautifully written for the eyes, we explore the key factors and issues being masked and ignored under the grandeur of extravagant lappa suits, hours of dancing, and influx of celebrity presence, as seen at the official launch of the “She’s You Movement”.
Time and time again, we have watched Liberian women and girls fall victim to rape, domestic violence, child abuse, molestation, sexual harassment, etc. Every now and then, when a high-profile case surfaces, a short-lived movement comes along advocating against these issues. However, after a public apology from the offender(s), the movement dies down and we go back to our abnormal normality of unprosecuted violence against women, left discouraged by the lack of government action and intervention.
In correspondence, Liberian women and girls have developed little trust in some of these advocacy movements and women empowerment initiatives implemented by different organizations and individuals. The question that continues to arise is whether or not the women that are said to be empowered are truly being empowered. Additionally, it raises questions on the overuse of the word “empower” as a buzzword that perpetuates the idea of perceived development that in actuality is not tangible.
In 2018, the Clar Hope Foundation was launched to curb some of the difficulties faced by disadvantaged women, children and elderly in Liberia. At the same time, in the same year, the Jewel Starfish foundation, founded by Vice President Jewel-Howard Taylor, was re-launched to fight for girls’ empowerment and presence in leadership roles.
The two organizations, operating independently of the offices of the two highest women in the Liberian government, were launched to advocate for more or less the same causes of women and girls’ empowerment in the midst of several already existing organizations in the same line of work. This then raises the question of the need for hundreds of organizations operating in Liberia advocating for similar issues and causes, and the need for conjoined efforts to enable them to raise a louder voice for and against these issues.
Although the “She’s You Movement” is stated to be established for the advocacy of women’s issues, it lacked strong presence from established grassroot organizations and individuals like the Liberia feminist forum, who are already strongly advocating for the same issues. Likewise, it ignored the slow government action or total lack of intervention into the current death by rape epidemic being perpetrated against young girls in the nation.
Need for Grassroot Advocacy
Earlier this month, two Liberian women were raped to death, and yet no public outcry was heard from First Lady Weah or Vice President Howard-Taylor. Likewise, President Weah was heard at the program launch voicing his support of the movement for women empowerment, and against abuses Liberian women are faced with. Meanwhile, the president was heard just two days later at the senatorial campaign launch of the ruling party candidate, Pauletta Wie, spewing violent politically charged insults at a young woman vying for a district representative seat, Telia Urey.
Keeping in mind all of these aforementioned contradictions, we wonder who the “She” madam Weah is presenting to be “You”, and who represents the “You”. In regard to the Liberian woman, we’ve been told that “she” is helpless, that she is vulnerable, that she is suffering, that she is a victim.
On the other hand, in regard to Madam Weah, we’ve been told that “she”, although a foreigner, sees us, that she understands us, that our problems are hers, that she is a mother, wife, daughter, woman.
So then, who is “She”?
The answer to that question sank deep in the sea of feminist buzzwords and advocacy theories, with no direct plan as to how Madam Weah intends to use her platform to empower Liberian women, whom many organizations have also already reportedly “empowered”. In addition, it is unclear the action-oriented end goal of the “She’s You Movement” -especially with no disclosed plan, coupled with low presence/participation from grassroot organizers. Likewise, Madam Weah has remained silent on pressing and pending high-profile cases that are gravely affecting the said empowerment the Liberian women and girls she intends to advocate for.
And so, Liberian women once again sit back and watch, as their names are used as a tool for the perpetuation of intangible empowerment and advocacy initiatives. However, since First Lady Clar Weah has stated that she is us, we await the movement in solidarity, with “us” at the forefront.