As a woman who has spent a considerable amount of time reflecting on the dynamics of gender equality and women's rights and as the co-founder of Streetwise Defence, I've come to a profound realisation: self-defence isn't just about learning to defend yourself physically; it's about fighting for empowerment, safety, and the very essence of feminism. While it's clear that we need societal change to truly achieve gender equality, the importance of women feeling empowered and safe through self-defence cannot be understated. In this article, I aim to explore why I firmly believe that women learning self-defence is a feminist issue.
Sadly, statistics and anecdotal evidence show that violence against women is still a major issue. While an element of this violence is ‘stranger danger’ (approx. 10%), most violent and sexual assaults on women (around 90%) are carried out by male acquaintances and partners. In a society that claims to be progressing towards gender equality, this subject needs attention. Women shouldn’t have to live in fear. This fear robs us of our freedom and our right to navigate the world without constant apprehension.
Self-defence shouldn’t just be about physical techniques – it should be about the defence of the body and the mind. It’s about understanding that all individuals are worthy of and worth protecting – emotionally and physically. This is something that women should explore carefully with their self-defence instructor, as unfortunately many martial arts teachers simply focus on the physical and teach their version of martial arts or kicking and punching – which is wholly ineffective and unsuitable for women in a real-life violent assault. What’s more, it doesn’t even consider the 90% of violence that women experience from people known to them – self-defence in this scenario is about boundary setting, awareness and avoidance, self-esteem and support.
When we teach self-defence, it's about equipping women with the skills, knowledge and mindset to feel confident and secure in their bodies. Women gain a sense of agency and empowerment that carries over into all aspects of life, from negotiating better pay to asserting themselves in personal relationships.
Moreover, self-defence training can serve as a catalyst for women to become more involved in feminist movements. When women feel empowered and secure, they are more likely to speak up against injustices, demand equal rights, and support other women in their quest for gender equality. By learning self-defence, women are not just preparing to defend themselves physically; they are preparing to defend their rights and the rights of all women.
In a world where gender-based violence and harassment remain pervasive issues, self-defence is an essential skill that can help women reclaim their sense of security. It is not about placing the onus of responsibility solely on women to protect themselves, but rather about giving them the tools to resist, to stand up against oppression, and to challenge societal norms that perpetuate violence against women. It is a way for women to say, "Enough is enough; we deserve better."
Self-defence also sends a powerful message to potential perpetrators. It conveys that women are not passive victims but strong individuals capable of defending themselves. This shift in perception can deter potential offenders and challenge the culture of impunity that often surrounds gender-based violence.
However, it's important to emphasise that self-defence is not a substitute for broader societal change. We need a change in culture and support for boys and men to enable a change in behaviour, and we need institutions and systems to change their practices to create a safer world for everyone. But while we strive for these changes, women should not be left defenceless.
In conclusion, I firmly believe that women learning self-defence is a feminist issue because it is about reclaiming power and agency, about feeling safe in a world that can often be threatening. It's a step towards a world where women are free to live their lives without the constant spectre of fear. Self-defence is not a solution to all the challenges women face, but it is a crucial tool in the fight for gender equality. When women feel empowered and safe, they can be powerful agents of change, working hand in hand with men and society to create a better world for all.
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