“Dawwie” in sign language
The national initiative for girl’ empowerment in sign language for the first time in Aswan
Not all words are expressed by voice. Sometimes thoughts and feelings are translated in body language, as in sign language.
There are 72 million deaf persons worldwide, according to statistics from the World Federation of the Deaf. 80% of these people live in developing countries and use more than 300 sign languages. In Egypt, there are many challenges facing the deaf, mute and hearing-impaired. Many cases of impaired hearing can be included in public schools if there are adequate tools and awareness from teachers. Being a girl can be an additional challenge.
In Aswan, there is this space where an interesting conversation is taking place between girls of different ages to help them shape their decisions and future. Full of details, emotions and echoing impact as it is, the conversation is without a single spoken word. UNICEF had the chance to listen to their silently-loud talks and get a glimpse of their world while showcasing their potential by breaking down barriers and strengthening their bonds
This was made possible to Mrs. Hanan. Hanan Abd El-Muttaleb works at a school for the deaf and mute. She has a special passion for the cause that made her change her career path as a teacher from technical education to special needs education four years ago.
In 2019, Hanan’s daughter Sama participated in the ‘Dawwie’ initiative. It was the first time Hanan learns about this national initiative to empower girls. Dawwie, meaning "loud voice with influence", is a national initiative led by the National Council for Children and Motherhood in partnership with the National Council of Women with technical support from UNICEF and in cooperation with many partners.
In 21 Egyptian governorates, the activities of this initiative are being implemented with the aim of involving young girls and boys in activities that will help them realize their full potential, while enhancing the participation of their families and communities, thereby changing the way society views girls.
Through Dawwie, girls learn the skill of expressing themselves and telling their personal stories in safe and inclusive spaces. Such value, Hanan noted, was most needed by girls at her school: "When I saw the difference in my daughter’s character after participating in Dawwie, I wanted my deaf students at school to experience the same. I made a Dawwie circle and noticed that the girls started to love each other and love me more. Their voices were heard within the circle."
Hanan used a range of tools and ideas available for individuals and organizations on Dawwie’s website to create a storytelling circle for the girls. These tools and ideas guide the organizer on how to encourage participants to talk about issues related to girls and women in Egypt such as early marriage, girls’ education and FGM. On the same wesite, girls can develop their digital skills through training courses, share their stories and learn about the services available to them.
Hanan also points out that girls found a safe space, perhaps for the first time, to ask a lot of urging questions on sensitive topics such as puberty and female hygiene. They also expressed their challenges as teenage girls who are different. “Some secrets were told for the first time in the circle”, Hana said.
The girls chose to make a special sign for Dawwie using a mix of signs representing ‘loud’ and ‘voice’.
In March 2022, First Lady Entesar El-Sisi expressed her support for the Dawwie initiative to become under the presidential umbrella. Hanan believes this step is very important, and hopes that the initiative would be expanded to be part of school curricula, not just voluntary initiatives as hers.
While circles are the beginning of their Dawwie journey, the girls continued engaging in activities through a camp organized by Dawwie. The camp’s activities included interactive sports, digital literacy training, intergenerational dialogue and discussions with community leaders to share their aspirations.