Within the walls of Coptic Cairo and a stream of adobe buildings, one can find Darb 1718, a contemporary art space. The center features Egyptian artwork, an open patio and a garden. Tonight I went with a group of friends to view their current exhibition entitled “Harassment”. This multimedia show has pop art posters, a mannequin, video art, and found objects. While there are diversity of styles and practices each of the artists reflects on the common theme: sexual harassment. Specifically, gendered harassment in Egypt and the ways in which people cope with it. The exhibition is one of many ways that people cope with the everyday humiliation and public intimidation that occur.
Another highlight of the evening was an anti-harassment play modeled after the Vagina Monologues. It featured men and women who portrayed sexual assault accounts written by Egyptian people. The entire performance was in amiya so it featured local terms for catcalling. While I could not understand every statement I was extremely impressed by the emotions of the mixed gender cast. The event was further enhanced with the open mic session. Audience members gathered on stage to provide their own account and interpretation of street assault.
People are resisting sexism within Egypt and in multiple ways. Less than two weeks ago, women and men held signs in Nasr City showing their disdain for street harassment. Informal networks such as Harassmap. provide a visual account of where women report having experienced sexual harassment. The exhibit, the performance, and the political demonstrations reveal the various ways that Egyptian women express their agency. What is especially uplifting is the way in which men can and have participated in these efforts. Although these opinions are not norm, they do provide a positive sign on how sexism can be challenged. For more information on groups that are working on this check out:
Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights: http://www.ecwronline.org/english/index.html
Egyptian Women for Democracy and Against Sexual Harassment: https://www.facebook.com/groups/130704176998294/