“Dis-enabling Spaces” is the name of a two-year program launched in January 2021 that included several steps and many contributors and participants. It aimed to create a protocol that can provide a framework for cultural institutions to deal with allegations of sexual and gender-based violence, as well as develop tools to make art spaces and event sites unwelcoming to predatory behaviour and rape culture. The geographical focus of the retreat was regional, and primarily takes into account the experiences of Arab women artists in their home cities and elsewhere. As a starting point, Mophradat invited over 250 women artists it has supported in the last five years to share their experiences of sexual violence within arts communities, creating a much-needed space for these practitioners to speak freely about their stories, collectively delineate the structural and systemic issues they face, and articulate their needs from cultural institutions and communities alike. In doing so, Mophradat aims to redistribute the power dynamic in how these issues are dealt with by giving space for these artists and cultural practitioners themselves to take the lead in informing the discourse on sexual violence and develop mechanisms to combat the issues that threaten their practices and lives in a way that is specific to and effective within their particular contexts.

The research involved professionals with expertise in survivor support, transformative justice, feminist and queer organizing, nonviolent communication, and creating safe(r) spaces, and also included the voices and experiences of more than 120 women arts practitioners from the Arab world, to help think through these issues. It began with a series of online workshops on sexual abuse in the arts:

Workshop #1 Egypt: May 7, 2021, facilitated by Marina Samir and Nana Abuelsoud
Workshop #2 Lebanon: May 7, 2021, facilitated by Lujain Joand Nur Turkmani
Workshop #3 Jordan and Palestine: May 8, 2021, facilitated by Bekriah Mawasi and Mona Benyamin
Workshop #4 Tunisia and Morocco: May 8, 2021, facilitated by Anissa Troudi and Azza Chaabouni

As a second step, a taskforce consisting of Adam HajYahia, Azza Chaabouni, Maya Ammar, and Noha El Ostaz was formed and developed a first draft protocol in June 2021 based on the workshop facilitators’ reports and several meetings with feminist groups and their own collective discussions.

A final retreat took place on January 11 and 12, 2022, with the participation of Adam HajYahia, Habiba Effat, Marnie Slater, Naira Antoun, and Salma El Tarzi alongside, from Mophradat’s team, Karim Kattan, Krystel Khoury, Mai Abu ElDahab, and Mare Spanoudaki. Ahmed Medhat, Marina Samir, and Nana Abuelsoud provided the notes and thoughts that are included in this publication to help inform the conversations. The project was guided by Habiba Effat and Salma El Tarzi.

The process, with its many contributions and steps, led to the publication of Can We Rule It Out? Collective ideas for keeping sexual abuse out of art spaces. The book is a collection of texts, reflections, questions, and documents that invites readers, colleagues, and peer organizations to engage in difficult, and often fraught, discussions about sexual abuse in art spaces. It aims to contribute to the work that has already been done and to be a waypost toward what remains to be done.

The book is now available in print (AR/EN) and digitally (AR/EN/FR), with contributions by Adam HajYahia, Ahmed Medhat, Habiba Effat, Karim Kattan, Mai Abu ElDahab, Marina Samir, Marnie Slater, Naira Antoun, Nana Abuelsoud, Sahar Mandour, and Salma El Tarzi, with translations by Shahd Issawi, Solène Jabaud, and Yasmine Haj. You can buy it in print for 10 euros (+p.p.) through our online library or download it for free here.

Certain steps of the “Dis-enabling Spaces” program were developed as part of the project “Distinct Voices” which was partially funded by the German Federal Foreign Office, while others were supported by the European Cultural Foundation, International Media Support, and realized in cooperation with Allianz Kulturstiftung.