The vast majority of women in Egypt have experienced some form of sexual harassment: it is a common occurrence on the streets, on public transport and in private homes. But groups are starting to fight back – and artistic expression is a driving force in the campaigns for change.
Documentary filmmaker and women’s rights activist, Melody Patry is part of that movement. She has just produced "Shout Art Loud", an innovative “living report” on art and sexual violence in Egypt. The interactive documentary explores how Egyptians are using theatre, dance, music and graffiti to tackle the “epidemic” of sexual harassment and violence against women in their country.
Published by Index on Censorship, an international organisation that promotes and defends freedom of expression, "Shout Art Loud" features interviews with artists, original artwork, videos and performances.
When Patry moved to Cairo in 2012 to learn Arabic and join a small women’s rights group, she was shocked to find out how much sexual violence against women had risen since the revolution. During the period February 2011 to January 2014, Egyptian women’s rights groups documented thousands of cases of sexual harassment, as well as crimes of sexual violence against at least 500 women, including gang rapes and mob-sexual assaults with sharp objects and fingers, .
“As the number of sexual crimes increased, I watched the amount of graffiti promoting women’s rights and denouncing violence against women grow and blossom on Cairo’s walls," she she writes in an introduction to her documentary. One of them was “the circle of hell”, a mural painted by two Egyptian artists – Mira Shihadeh and el Zeft – near Tahrir Square. The image denounced the disturbing trend of attacks against female protesters in which women are encircled in mobs of 200 to 300 men who fight, pull, shove, beat and strip them. “This painting, a few meters away for Tahrir Square, was a statement for all to see. Egypt would not stay silent before such crimes. Other murals and pro-women graffiti regularly appear on – and sometimes disappear from – Cairo’s walls,” Patry writes.
“When I was given the chance to take part in a theatre workshop exploring issues of sexual violence in Egypt, I jumped at the chance. Seeing the graffiti, and then taking part in a play, showed me first hand how powerful a role art can play in tackling the problem.
“This is why I decided to make “Shout Art Loud”. In the documentary, I try to highlight artists and civil society’s new approaches to denounce sexual harassment, encourage women to speak out and challenge social taboos. These include art exhibitions, graffiti and murals, street performances, dance, theatre, rap, comic strips, and digital tools to report and map harassment."
“This innovative documentary is a reminder of the vital role artistic expression plays in tackling taboo subjects like sexual violence — in Egypt and beyond,” says Index CEO Jodie Ginsberg. “We want to bring this issue to a wider audience to show just how important artists and writers can be in bringing about change.”