Today marks the start of Deaf Awareness Week and we couldn’t be more excited to launch our new project! Backed by Comic Relief, we’ll empower deaf girls in Rwanda to overcome the many disadvantages they face and shape their own futures.
Girls are already too easily excluded from society. They’re less likely to go to school and make decisions about their futures. But girls with disabilities face a double disadvantage. Trapped in their own world and unable to communicate with those around them, they are more likely to face abuse, early pregnancy and forced child marriage.
Our project, the first of its kind in the region, will use dance to protect deaf girls and empower them to shape the decisions that affect their futures.
Stigmatisation leaves deaf girls forgotten and at risk of abuse
Families living from day to day have little money to spend on school. They prioritise boys, meaning girls are trapped in a cycle of exclusion and poverty. With no way out, the chance of a brighter future is impossible.
But deaf girls face even greater risks. Deep-rooted stigma means they are shunned by their communities. Hidden away, they face violence and abuse.
Many deaf girls are trapped in a world of their own, without any way of properly communicating with their family. Predators and abusers know this. In northern Rwanda, we found that 92% of victims of sexual violence were girls with communication disabilities. When deaf girls are abused, they have no way of telling anybody. Even if they do have a form of communication, like sign language, reporting is difficult. The systems don’t accommodate them. Girls are left to suffer in silence. Our new project is a crucial lifeline to girls, ensuring they are not forgotten by society.
We’ll protect, educate, and empower deaf girls in their communities
Deaf girls will create change in their communities by participating in community events and forums
As Rwanda’s leading experts in inclusion, we’ll work with our partners EmCD and MindLeaps to run dance classes for deaf girls and boys alongside their hearing peers. Led by inclusion-trained dance teachers, the dance classes will improve children’s self-esteem. We know from past experience that children involved in dance projects are more likely to do better, and stay, in school! Dance will also help to build trusting relationships between deaf and hearing girls and boys. They’ll break down barriers and create lasting bonds, helping to reduce discrimination in the community. Over three years we’ll reach 126 children!
The dance lessons will also act as safe spaces for young girls to express their opinions and share their struggles. Our local female trainers will share information about their rights and the services they can access, which most deaf girls are unaware of. By coming together, they can create change in their communities. They’ll also reach out to other marginalised girls and participate in local decision-making forums! This means they can hold those in power to account while building their own confidence and changing community attitudes.
At the same time, we’ll engage teachers, local officials, and parents to shift the cultural values that lead to violence and exclusion against deaf girls. By empowering girls and facilitating dialogue, girls will be given the tools to break down communication barriers to ensure deaf girls are respected, safe and equal.
Stephane Nyembo, our Rwanda Country Representative, said:
“We’re so pleased to be launching this new project during Deaf Awareness Week! Deaf children, especially girls, are being excluded in their communities. The pandemic is only making this worse. But this new project, with Comic Relief and our partners EmCD and MindLeaps, will make a huge difference to deaf girls in the Nyabihu district. Our new project contributes to the Government’s efforts to empower girls and create a gender-equal society. The deaf school already supports children from across northern Rwanda. Now more deaf girls will have access to education and the ability to speak up in their communities and shape their own futures.”