Tag Archives: harassment

Building Bridges in the Middle East

It’s no secret that there is a lot of tension between Arabs and Jews in the Middle East. However, stories about peaceful encounters and coexistence rarely make the headlines.

This month, El HaLev instructors taught a self-defense course to a group of Arab women from East Jerusalem. Since most of the staff does not speak Arabic, they used a translator.

The following quotes were said by the women at the course graduation:

“Before this course I never dared to walk alone. Not anywhere at any time. I was just too afraid. Today I walk alone and feel confident and strong. How liberating!”

“At first I was embarrassed to work with men in the room, but after the first day I understood how tremendously important it was for us to fight against a realistic attacker. I thank the men so much for giving us this gift.”

Thank you for giving me permission to say NO and teaching me to use it with strength and purpose.”

The volunteer assistant shared this:

Despite the language barrier and cultural differences, the women remind me a lot of the Jewish women I took the course with at El HaLev two years ago. They’re in denial, but at the same time, curious. Shy but daring. I feel that the similarities by far outweigh the differences.

I came to IMPACT after I was attacked by an Arab man in my neighborhood. I survived the attack, but like most victims, awaited his return. IMPACT helped me feel my strength and realize my true abilities.

And now, here I am surrounded by shouts in Arabic, the very words which failed me when it mattered most. But soon I learned to shout the way I didn’t know back then.

The level of trust, intimacy and friendship between the women and the team of instructors has helped me, more than anything, to renew my own trust in mankind. There were moments in which we glimpsed that perhaps, under different circumstances, we could have been friends.

Teaching self-defense to women from east Jerusalem  serves as a reminder for what we stand for: empowering women, regardless of age, color, size, nationality or political background. The first step to fighting violence against women is accepting that every woman deserves to know how to defend herself. When we focus on our similarities rather than our differences, we find that we are not alone.

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My body, My Right To Defend It

Women in East Jerusaelm lear self-defense

Every women who comes to a self-defense class fights.

She fights the stigma of “this isn’t ladylike.” She fights the voices around her saying “I’ll protect you!” or “Who are you kidding?” She fights the inner voices of “I can’t do this,” and “What if I fail?”

I had the challenge and pleasure to teach a group of wonderful Arab women in East Jerusalem. My challenge: I don’t speak Arabic. Their challenge: thinking outside the box!

These women come from a culture where your husband, your father and your brothers can define how you live; they decide what you can do, where you can go etc. As an Orthodox Jewish women I am not pompous enough to judge the traditional Muslim community. What I am willing to do, though, is give voice as a witness to the tremendous growth and sharing that occurred during this course.

On day one, I ask the women to share a bit of their background. I made it very clear to them that I may teach things they do not feel comfortable with, and that I would love to hear feedback if that is the case. They told me that Islam does not support rape or violence – despite how it may look to an outsider. That was all we needed to embark on our journey.

In order to follow through with any kind of self-defense course, all participants must reach an understanding.  “This is my body, it’s all I have all day, every day of my life, and it is my right to decide who can touch it.” Embracing that was empowering. What a simple but profound concept. How life changing!

The obstacles were many. Besides the language barrier, the air conditioning didn’t work and the heat was unbearable. In the last class I gave the women an exercise to help me assess if they had mastered the concept, “My body, my right to defend it!”  I asked them to role play attacker/defender in verbal scenarios. What a beautiful thing then happened. The quiet, timid, skeptical and sometimes giggly women blossomed. The attacker became the inappropriate or slimy guy. The defender used her voice and body language to make it clear that she was not interested, repeating herself clearly until he gave up. What courage and determination! Just beautiful.

As part of our closing circle I read to them a favorite Eleanor Roosevelt quote written when she campaigned for the signing of the Declaration of Human Rights, on which we base our work (Article #3: Every person has the right to life, liberty and personal security.)

“Where…do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home, so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world. Yet, they are the world of the individual person. The neighborhood…the school or college…the factory, farm or office…Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.”

With that, we shook hands and parted ways (for now 🙂 ). With a commitment and willingness to defend our bodies. They walked out, one woman at a time, standing just a bit taller, with a little more sparkle in her eyes, and with the thirst to learn more. Woohoo!

Written by Yudit Sidikman

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Fighting Violence – The Way That Works

Women do not have to tolerate sexual harassment

In the world we live in, everyone is fighting for something.

We each have our cause, a problem we’re battling; poverty, sizeism, racism, terrorism, etc. These are all big problems. Huge problems. Problems which are too big for one person to fight, originating in human survival instincts. These issues are going to exist for as long as humans exist, because it’s who we are, and how we survive.

And here’s another one: Rape.

Why is rape set aside from the others? Rape is a giant, universal problem, claiming more and more victims every day. One in THREE women – those are the statistics! So why am I mentioning it down here, and not up there with the rest of its friends?

Because rape can be fought.

With kicks and screams. With an aggressive look in the eye. With a single word.

Most of the problems I stated above have an idea at their basis. For instance, the idea that someone who is different is a threat (racism), or the idea that being fat is unhealthy (sizeism). In both of these cases the problem originates from a survival instinct, but is fueled by our subconscious belief that this idea is solid fact. In the case of rape, this idea is that men are stronger than women.

IMPACT battles this concept at its roots, shaking up humanity at its most basic, existential levels. Beyond proving without a doubt that women are equally strong in their bodies as men, IMPACT says: women do not have to tolerate sexual harassment. Women do not have to tolerate verbal abuse. A woman does not have to stand there quietly while someone hisses and whistles at her. She’s allowed to stop him the instant she feels slightly uncomfortable. You don’t have to wait for him to hit you in order to tell him to leave you alone. All of these things seem so trivial, we shouldn’t even have to think about them. And yet, the opposite is so deep within us, it has become our nature to tolerate abuse and disrespectful behavior.

So many women go through years unable to say the word “no” without feeling pangs of guilt. IMPACT teaches us that it’s never too early to say no to something you do not want. You’re allowed to say no to the way someone looks at you. You’re allowed to say no to people you love. You’re allowed to say no in random, everyday situations. You’re allowed to say no in the middle of sex, and you don’t have to feel bad or apologize for it. No one has the right to force you to do anything, and no one has the right to cross your own personal boundaries. And if you don’t think you can stop them, you should learn how.

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Sexual Assault Prevention Tips

As the mother of a very wonderful and sensitive young man, as well as a self-defense teacher and women’s empowerment advocate, I have had to deal with some very unpleasant conversations. Predominately after getting off the phone helping some distressed woman or girl when my son only overheard my side of the conversation. As sensitive as I have tried to be about not condemning all of mankind, it definitely can seem like I dislike men.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Ask my wonderful male IMPACT instructors and the fantastic male Judo and Martial Arts instructors that I have had the privilege to work with. I can add to that my father, son and numerous other male friends and family for whom I have nothing but the greatest respect and love.

But hearing only my side of the conversation, my young son would say to me, “Mommy, do you really think all men are bad?” My answer was, “I know it might sound that way, but what is bad is violence. Unfortunately, many, many times violence is at the hands of men. If I was a man, I would be so upset with all of the bad men who make a bad name for me, a man. But I am not, so I fight against violence in the way I can. One day, you will find your own way to fight violence. The first step is being a good man and a good father.”

One of the biggest controversies in the violence prevention world is whether we need to focus our work on victims/survivors or on the perpetrators.  More correctly, if we teach women to defend themselves we are saying that it is their responsibility, and what we should be doing is stopping violence by stopping the perpetrators. The answer, in my mind, is both. We need to educate against violence. We also need to educate that protecting one’s body is a universal right. I purposely wrote both of those statements gender neutral.

This past year I have seen more and more groups and ads being created by men against violence; men against rape. I hear my colleagues talk about their male advocates and how they are creating programs that build on healthy communication between the sexes. I have posted links to some strong videos done by young men who speak out against rape.  I am proud of the growth in awareness that I see in this area. I am even more proud of the cooperation of both genders to raise awareness and be vocal in our fight to end violence. And yes, it is a fight.

So today, I am throwing down a gauntlet. Men, take this JPEG file. Print it. Hang it in your office, on your fridge, your dorm door, in the bathroom at a local bar or restaurant, or any place you are willing to make the statement “I believe in this!”

And women, you know what my advice is for you 🙂

Peace,

Yudit Sensei

Sexual Assault Prevention Tips

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