A civil organisation defending the rights of dwarves in Egypt is set to receive formal recognition next Monday, after the Ministry of Social Solidarity announced it would grant its permit as a legitimate not-for-profit organisation.
The Association for the Welfare of Dwarves in Alexandria has operated without a permit for the past 12 years, and once accepted it will be the first formally recognised organisation protecting the rights of dwarves in the Arab world.
According to its founder, Essam Shehata, the organisation has operated since 2000 but was never given permission by the government to operate legally. “So far we have no partnerships or funding from any business or ministry,” he said.
Shehata said dwarves are one of the most marginalised groups in society. “Dwarves face two major problems in Egypt,” he said. “The first is that the Egyptian people do not accept them and so they treat them harshly.” The problem is compounded by the government, which he says does not recognise them as disabled but also do not provide them with jobs akin to that of non-disabled people. They are, as he described, treated as disabled people without any of the benefits that the law is meant to provide, such as employment quotas.
In Egypt, there are an estimated ten to 15 million people with a physical or mental disability. Amena El-Saie, a co-founder of the Helm foundation for people with disabilities, said this figure does not include people affected by dwarfism. “The way they are treated by the general society is simply horrific,” she said, explaining that the general attitude is to “look, point and laugh.” Such behaviour, she argued, has a huge detrimental effect on their lives, forcing them to seclude themselves even further.
“We live in a disabling society,” El-Saie said, pointing to the government’s failure to help person with disabilities. “This government is not focusing on the issue and they say it is because they do not have the budget to tackle the problem, which is bad because they are a part of our society.”
Shehata wants to pressure the government into recognising their plight and providing them with a form of identification that would grant them some degree of recognition. Through social awareness campaigns he hopes to create an atmosphere of acceptance in society.
“Most dwarves are not educated because the educational system makes it impossible for them to engage,” Shehata said. He “would like to see an educational system set up” to cater for their needs.
“Currently there are 1,500 dwarves in Alexandria,” Shehata said. “I want to propose an article be drafted in the draft constitution that guarantees fair treatment and opportunity for dwarves.”