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