6 March 2013
Gender rights are enshrined in Sierra Leone's law, but many women are still subject to daily discrimination. Sowa Brima, a 35-year-old primary school teacher, is fighting for justice.
Sowa lives in Kenema district, eastern Sierra Leone, with her two daughters.
Her 18-year marriage collapsed after her husband abandoned her for another woman, leaving her in debt.
Sowa Brima and Christian Aid partner Action Plus in Sierra Leone
Financial support and rights
Sowa describes numerous attempts to get her husband to contribute financially to the family:
'The chief asked my husband to pay maintenance for all of us, but I refused this money because it was not enough. On top of this my husband refused to pay for two years.'
Without financial support from her husband, Sowa struggled to get by on her teacher's salary and to provide for her daughters, as well as a nephew and a stepson.
'My salary was not enough and I could not afford sufficient food, and a well-balanced diet,' she explains.
Action Plus: seeking justice
Thanks to our partner, Action Plus, Sowa has sought justice.
Action Plus provided her with a lawyer, which Sowa previously was unable to afford, and supported her through the process of taking legal action to get her husband to pay maintenance, a right enshrined in law.
'He [the magistrate] was angry with my husband for not taking care of his family', explains Sowa. 'He asked him to pay maintenance each month, school fees, healthcare and to pay me compensation.'
With greater financial security, Sowa has begun to make plans for her and her family's future.
'My plan is for me to become really educated and serve as a role model.'
An end to violence against women
In the Kenema district, Action Plus promotes gender equality by raising awareness in communities about the gender rights enshrined in Sierra Leone's law.
Under recent legislation, domestic violence is now a criminal offence (including withholding essential finances as in Sowa's case).
Women can now inherit property and girls are protected from early and forced marriage.
Despite these changes in law, Agnes Sandy, project manager at Action Plus, says that women are still subject to discrimination on a day-to-day basis.
Action Plus is supported by ENCISS, a programme funded by UK aid and the EU, and managed by Christian Aid.
ENCISS is working to improve accountability and to strengthen citizens' voice and participation in decisions that affect them.
To date, ENCISS has provided grants and built the skills of more than 240 civil society and government organisations in Sierra Leone.
Action Plus conducts community events to demystify laws and support people in reporting crimes.
They have now reached more than 15,000 people.
Agnes has noticed a shift in attitudes. She recently received a call from a chief reporting the case of a woman who was nearly beaten to death by her husband.
Previously these cases would have gone unreported, she explains, because people often believe that husbands have the right to beat their wives and withhold their food.
Thanks to Action Plus people now know that this is a crime and punishable by law.
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