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In teaching self-defense, a taekwondo champ builds young women's confidence

A path to progress

Lina Khalifeh created SheFighter in Jordan to help prepare women to defend themselves, especially in parts of the world where there are repressive attitudes toward women.

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    Egyptian girls take a self-defense and martial-arts class to protect themselves against sexual harassment in Zagazig, a city of 1 million people north of Cairo, 2008.
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One in three women worldwide is beat up in her home or neighborhood. But a girls-only gym in Khalda, Jordan, is combating the violence by teaching women, physically and mentally, that the “best defense is a good offense.”

Lina Khalifeh, an international taekwondo champion, created SheFighter after witnessing one of her close friends be abused. In 2009, Lina attended the Supporting Entrepreneurs and Enterprise Development Seminars (SEEDS) in Glendale, Arizona – a program designed to support women entrepreneurs in starting or growing their business. There she learned how to start a business, and write a business plan. She returned to Jordan in 2010, taking over her parents' basement to teach women a mixture of self defense and martial arts. The program was so popular that she moved to her own studio in 2012.

Lina’s passion for SheFighter was born because, “I didn’t find one real solution for violence against women,” she says. Her vision reaches far beyond just teaching young women how to defend themselves.

The self defense training helps prepare these young women to defend themselves, especially in parts of the world where there are repressive attitudes towards women and women’s rights. But the key part of SheFighter is that it builds confidence in these young women, and gives them the tools to pursue their dreams.

“Empowerment sets a direct path towards gender equality, poverty eradication and inclusive economic growth,” according to UN Women. “Women make enormous contributions to economies, whether in businesses, on farms, as entrepreneurs or employees, or by doing unpaid care work at home.”

Learning self defense gives these girls a sense of value, purpose, and confidence. It helps keep them in school, and thus they’re more likely to pursue a career. Not only will an education and a job help them directly, but it will also help contribute to the economy.

“It’s been a year since I first joined SheFighter,” says Nour Daoud, a member at SheFighter.

“I must admit that this gym hasn’t only offered me the greatest experience of my life so far, but it also granted me strength, power, self-confidence and, most importantly, incredible friends and a sense of family.”

Lina has trained and helped roughly 10,000 young women in the last six years. Even President Barack Obama is a fan – he highlighted SheFighter during a speech about emerging young entrepreneurs globally. He thanked Lina for her dedication to helping women live with dignity and safety.

March 8 was International Women's Day, which recognizes the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. It is a day to celebrate women of all different backgrounds, from all around the world. And it is a day to champion the organizations that empower women, and work so hard to reach gender equality.

The SheFighter initiative is helping to break the stereotype that femininity equals weakness. Lina and her team are teaching a new generation of women to be fighting fit in mind and body, as well as to be equipped to thrive in a global society that is all too often unfairly balanced. Lina Khalifeh is a dedicated example of the UN Women proclamation: “Throughout history, women have made extraordinary contributions to their societies. Some are well known, some less so, but all have been trailblazers....

This article originally appeared at Global Envision, a blog published by Mercy Corps.

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