Sexual harassment and assault are considered a long-standing and systemic problem in Egypt, and even though it remains particularly difficult for women to publicly accuse men of rape, sexual assault, or harassment due to social and cultural views around sex and sexuality, Egyptian women are learning to speak up for themselves and are taking steps to change the rape culture.
Today we were pleased to interview the Founder of Muffled voice event, Donia Mourad, who believes that tackling the sexual harassment problem through art and education could actually enact social change regarding this issue, and she told us about all you need to know and expect from the virtual interactive experience called Muffled Voice!
So, Donia tell us about Muffled Voice?
First, let me introduce myself, my name is Donia Mourad, I am an Egyptian performing artist who has been traveling around and living abroad since 2010. I started practicing theater for the oppressed in 2016. Since then I have both been a part of and led workshops on sexual assault in the US. Ever since I have wanted to bring this work to Egypt and was waiting for the right time in my career, studies, and political climate. The stars seemed to align a few months ago when I proposed the workshop to a collective I take part in in the US, solidarity in Isolation. From there, we started doing the research. Shortly after, I founded another artists collective with two fellow Egyptian performing artists, Senzalimit Collective. Being a Theater of the Oppressed practitioner and an advocate for social change through theater, I felt this approach was necessary to truly tackle this issue from all angles and extend the invitation to participate to more people. Our mission is to explore our options as active civilians in the community to enact social change regarding this issue and spreading awareness on consent, assault, and the social and political laws that have perpetrated the issue for decades. Through the use of Theatre of the Oppressed and August Boal techniques, we strive to create a fun and interactive rehearsal space for this social movement and to entice the community to become and remain active participants in our society through empowering ourselves with the tools and education necessary.
Muffled Voice is not just an event. This is “Phase I” which we have focused on education and awareness. Muffled Voice will remain active on social media and there will be more virtual and in-person events to come.
Why did you choose the Theater of the Oppressed as a way for your workshop?
I am a performing artist. My focus has always been physical theater and Theater of the Oppressed. In 2016, I was inspired by my friend, teacher, and colleague Amanda Masterpaul and we have worked together with the other members of Solidarity in Isolation on Theater of the Oppressed workshops ever since on topics ranging from sexual assault, to homelessness, to inclusion in the classroom with most everything in between.
Through Theater of the Oppressed we can put social issues under a different lense and remove the idea of the idle spectator. Everyone in a workshop gets a voice and a say in the workshop, making them a “spect-actor.” The safe space created via Augusto Boal’s methods enables people to speak up and take action in a controlled environment. Thereby gaining confidence in their ideas, correcting their misconceptions, and participating in a rehearsal for revolution. Through Theater of the Oppressed we can explore how microaggressions enable an oppressive society and the root causes that must be dismantled in order to fix the problem from the cause.
Why did you decide to start such movement and why now, did you experience/witnessed any form of sexual harassment yourself?
This movement is very personal to me as I have had multiple personal experiences and have witnessed even more. I have been brainstorming this event since 2016 when I started creating and facilitating similar events in the US. Originally, I was waiting to finish my obligations in the US and Italy to be able to travel to Egypt to set up the event in-person. With COVID-19 happening right when I was planning to travel back in June, 2020, I was forced to decide whether I want to wait or take it online. I decided to take it online! With all the current events related to gender equality and sexual assault in Egypt, they further proved the dire need for this movement in Egypt now more than ever. We are at the cusp of a social revolution for women’s rights and gender equality; now is the time to propel this movement forward and not waste the traction we have gained. We have to extend the invitation to care to as many people as possible and have specific goals outlined for our movement. This is exactly the point of Project Muffled Voice! To create the space for anyone and everyone to participate and learn in a safe and artistic environment. This event is only possible because of the wonderful efforts my collaborators in Solidarity in Isolation and Senzalimit Collective have put forth. Thanks to everyone’s dedication and hard work this event will debut Project Muffled Voice in our efforts to deliver education and awareness to the rape crisis in Egypt through art.
Do you think the virtual version of the workshop might not be as effective as the face to face one?
Traditionally, any form of theater is meant to be a celebration of community and is more effective in person. This stands true for Theater of the Oppressed as well. This is our second virtual workshop and while it has its own pros, much of the spirit and ritual of community is lost without the energy transfer that happens between participants in a theater. I would not go so far to say that it would be less effective. There are hurdles to jump to reach people via a screen, and half of those are technical ones. However, given the current times with COVID-19 and with our collectives being scattered all over the world and unable to meet, we have found that a virtual community is better than no community at all. Just because we cannot physically have each other’s’ backs, does not mean we should stand silent to the injustices happening in our community, no matter how distant it may feel.
Don’t forget to clear up your schedule on September 5th and register on the Eventbrite link available on Muffled Voice Facebook event page.
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A strong upper Egyptian woman! By day, Gilan uses her voice and platform to educate, advocate, and enhance the voices of minorities, and by night, she paints her face with bright colors and glitter!