Trained in self-defence, Lebanese women find new confidence

Date: Sunday, June 21, 2020

A group of women in Beirut take part in self-defence classes. Photo: Courtesy of CARE International Lebanon

*All in-person trainings supported by UN Women have been put on hold since the COVID-19 lockdown was established by the government of Lebanon. As lockdown measures ease, some classes are expected to resume soon.

In Beirut’s southern suburbs, testimonies of women who have faced abuse paint a very dark picture. Gathered at Ghubairi’s Social Development Center, a government managed multipurpose space providing services to the community, many women recall having experienced sexual harassment which sometimes escalated to actual attempts of rape.

“Some time ago, I was harassed by a taxi driver but managed to escape and seek shelter at a friend’s house. I kept on crying throughout that day,” recalled *Maha, a 33-year-old woman, a suburb resident, originally from South Lebanon.

Since the incident, she enrolled in self-defence classes provided by CARE International and UN Women Lebanon, with support from the Governments of Japan, Norway and Finland, in the context of the “She Can” initiative, which is part of a broader project aimed at strengthening the economic empowerment and protection of women and girls in Lebanon.

With its focus on ending violence against refugee and host community women and girls, the “She Can” initiative combines self-defence classes with prevention and response activities including psychosocial support and referrals to specialized service providers. Through its different activities, the initiative works to enhance women’s knowledge of their rights and their access to protection, as well as to effect positive change in the community.

Maha describes herself as being very shy and explains how the self-defence classes have helped her to feel stronger. Reflecting now on the incident she went through, she said that counting on her newly acquired confidence, if this harassment would happen today, she would react differently. She added, “these sessions have also changed the relationship I have with my husband. I learned how to voice my opinions, claim my rights and express my views. Before, I did not dare to oppose him.”

So far 220 women and girls have signed up for the courses, which started last November. Even though many people think that self-defence instruction relates only to physical safety, instructor Yasmine Abu Jawad explained that these classes also address the psychological aspects of security. “I have worked with several NGOs for the last 12 years. These courses do a lot for the wellbeing of trainees. Their relationship to their body, entourage, and male partners is transformed. This course gives them confidence in themselves and allows them to take another look at their lives,” she said.

Fatima* a mother of four, said that the self-defence training gave her confidence to stop an assault by a close relative. “I never thought this could happen to me. If I hadn’t taken these classes, I would have never been able to defend myself”. Fatima explained that within the society she lives in, a woman can never disclose such an incident. “No one would have believed me. They would have thought that I led him on and that I encouraged him,” she said.

Faten Tibi, UN Women’s programme manager for women’s economic empowerment noted that “in this programme, we work to prevent physical and psychological harm against women. Self-defence not only provides women with practical skills and techniques for self-protection, it increases women’s sense of safety and confidence to deal with difficult situations. We must do everything we can to address and end violence against women and girls"

*The names of the women have been changed to protect their identities.