Beyond the News

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The Simple Truth | Egypt

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by Reem Kassem, Founding Director, Agora Arts & Culture, Egypt

And suddenly everybody is speaking about sexual harassment in Egypt. As if it wasn’t there years and years ago. As if no other horrible incidents happened over the past years. And as if we surprisingly discovered the horrible manners in the society yesterday! People on the media are wondering why and why and why! Funny!

Sexual harassment has been there since years. And due to numerous reasons people weren’t able to discuss it openly. Society refused to admit that there is a manners’ problem not only reflected in the increased number of sexually harassed women, but mostly in the general behavior of the society. And now after issuing a law against sexual harassment, more and more people are admitting it and started the discussion. That is a positive sign, because starting the discussion might mean that the issue will be seriously addressed.

“Any negative trait that arises in a society is a result of its failure to meaningfully communicate, express and engage”

More than one year ago I wrote about the relation between sexual harassment and lack of arts education in schools on my Blog. And stated in my post, that 80% of sexual harassment incidents is due to the lack of meaningful channels for self-expression in the society. I observed the behavior of the little boys in the school next door everyday in the morning before going to work. And made a little research about the social and economic conditions of these kids in comparison to others same age but engaged in social and cultural activities.

Kids from disadvantaged communities find it cool to tease girls on the streets, they find it self-satisfying to harass a girl or even a woman and exercise power in public. This is due to complex reasons, be it a reflection of what they see at home, education, culture, but mainly their failure to meaningfully express themselves. So what they simply do is express it negatively through sexual harassment, violence, gangsters’ activities, escaping from schools etc. All they understand is that they are heroes among their society by doing that.

They grow up having learned that this is the only way accessible for them to express and engage in the society. They haven’t seen any music classes at school to discover the world of cultural institutions and start learning an instrument or go to a concert. They haven’t seen drama or poetry or even attended a painting class. This is the difference between these kids and their fellows who could afford going to private schools; thus meaningfully engage in the society. And this is the difference between men who are upset now that sexual harassment is becoming more and more a habit in the society, and their fellow men who exercise it and who always accuse women for being women.

The simple truth is that sexual harassment and any other negative behavior is not going to disappear or even decrease without teaching the society how to engage and express meaningfully. This means finding alternative ways to communicate rather than negatively behaving. And this is neither gonging to happen without having a sufficient number of cultural engaging activities, and a reasonable number of operating cultural institutions with venues where the society can meet, engage and exchange. Nor is it going to happen when education is lacking the food for mind and soul.

No creativity and innovation … No math and science
No culture and arts … No manners and positive behaviors
That’s the simple truth

Reem Kassem is a performing arts curator and festival manager working at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Arts Center. She founded Agora for Arts and Culture, an independent arts education institution. Reem is the Head of Performing Arts Programming at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Arts Center, where she coordinates the monthly program and the performing arts festivals of the Bibliotheca. She established AGORA for Arts and Culture in 2011, an independent organization undertaking the 2020 Development Matrix; a program connecting arts practice and non-formal education with social development. In 2012, she established AGORA International, a new branch based in Marseille.
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