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The art of fighting sexual harassment

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“Shout Art Loud,” an interactive web documentary produced by the international non profit “Index on Censorship”, explores how art tackles the topic of sexual harassment in Egypt

Qahera, the hijab-clad super heroine fights harassers and protects women. (Photo handout from Qahera- the Superhero Facebook page.)

Qahera, the hijab-clad super heroine fights harassers and protects women.
(Photo handout from Qahera- the Superhero Facebook page.)

“I am tired of scum like you on the streets,” says Layla Magdy, raising her fist in anger as a group of men who had been catcalling her move closer.

“You’re going to regret this,” one of the men says, raising his knife and trapping her against a wall.

Falling, she raises her hand to ward him off. “Just leave me alone!”

Suddenly, a Hijab-clad super heroine enters the scene. Qahera, as she is called, grabs a stick, beats up the harassers and takes them to the police station.

This is how Deena Mohamed, a 19-year old-art student, drew inspiration from her own experience in the street to create Egypt’s first web comic super heroine who fights sexual harassment. Mohamed is one of many artists featured in “Shout Art Loud”, an interactive web documentary that explores how art tackles the topic of sexual harassment in Egypt produced by the international non profit “Index on Censorship”.

With police, politicians and the judiciary seeming incapable of tackling the issue effectively, activists are turning to the arts to help lead the fight back, according to a statement from the producers. The documentary, available for viewing on Index on Censorship’s website, is an ongoing project, and will be updated to feature new art projects addressing sexual harassment as they emerge.

Ninety-nine percent of Egyptian women have experienced some form of sexual harassment, according to a 2014 study from the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. About 97% reported harassment in the form of touching.

Since more than 82% of the sexual harassment cases in Egypt happen in public transport, according to the study, “Shout Art Loud” producers chose the metro as a platform for their interactive documentary, where the viewer starts his “journey” and goes through several “stops” representing different media in which the topic was tackled in art.

Between graffiti, theatre, dance, music and other disciplines, artists try to express women’s frustrations with harassment and raise awareness about the topic.

“For people who are unaware of the issues women go through, I hope it helps them understand or at least give them something to think about,” Mohamed said in the documentary.

Artists like Mohamed are reaching out with their message to the public, not only though the internet, but through different media too.

Mayam Mahmoud, a 19-year old- rapper, sings about how women are judged based on what they wear. In one of her songs, she hopes for a harassment law that protects all women equally.

Another featured project, “Graffiti Harimi” (Feminist Graffiti), tries to empower women to fight violence and discrimination by spraying images of powerful women in the streets of Cairo. Images include photos of Samira Ibrahim, a woman protestor who was arrested and subjected to a virginity test late in 2011. Despite her conservative Upper Egyptian background, Ibrahim filed a case against the Egyptian military for conducting virginity tests on female protestors in custody.

The graffiti project also featured  an image inspired by one old Egyptian film, “Lil Rigal Faqat” (For Men Only), narrating the story of two Egyptian women who dressed like men to be able to get jobs in the petroleum sector. The graffiti shows a photo of these two women along with a statement reading “nothing is for men only”.

Spreading images of strong women that people are familiar with will bring back positive perceptions about women in general, said founder of “Graffiti Harimi” Merna Thomas in the documentary. Thomas attributes the spread of harassment to negative perceptions about women, who are seen as objects.

The documentary draws attention to the way culture resists talking about harassment and violence against women.

In the film, Nadine Emile, an actress for the Cairo-based nonprofit BuSSy, a theatre project that presents monologues of women stories with gender issues, shares the story of how she was prevented from performing one of the stories of a woman who, as a child, got molested by her older cousin. Some of the audience reported BuSSy to the police; the organisers were taken to morality police and state security, and were released after some of the monologues were banned.

The actors, whose monologues were banned, insisted on performing the stories on stage, instead of saying the script  they silently mimed it to express how they were censored and muted, she said.

“People do not want to hear that this happens,” Emile said.

About the author

Marwa Morgan

Marwa Morgan

Arts and Culture reporter

Marwa is a journalist and street photographer interested in cultural identities and contemporary art. Her website is www.marwamorgan.com. Follow her on twitter @marwamorgan.


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