Women refugees are often at high risk for gender violence during their migratory experiences and their life at displaced persons camps. In Jordan, some of them have had the opportunity to learn defense techniques thanks to SheFighter, a gym in Amman that teaches women different types of martial arts.
Personal defense for female refugee empowerment
The SheFighter defense technique was created in 2012 by businesswoman Lina Khalifeh. "SheFighter is the first self-defence studio for women in Jordan and the Middle East, designed to empower women both physically and physiologically through self-defense training," the project's organisers said on their website. Over the years, SheFighter has organised various workshops, both in Amman and other cities in Jordan, for women refugees in the country, especially those from Syria.
A recent course was held for 25 women refugees from five different countries in cooperation with UNHCR. One of the participants was Layla (not her real name), 35, who was forced to flee from Yemen after having spent years as an activist for women victims of violence. After Layla was forced to marry a man against her will, she vowed to herself that she would never let other women go through the same experience.
"I remember seeing my neighbour beaten up by her brother because she refused to get married," she told UNHCR. "She felt her life was over. I accompanied her to the hospital, and helped her rent a house far from danger". However, her work with women put her in danger, forcing her to flee her country. "I received daily threats, usually through letters, and more than once strangers waited for me outside my office. I know I can never be safe wherever I go, as the people who want to silence me could find me easily."
UN: one in three women victims of abuse in their lifetimes
According to UN Women, the UN organization for gender equality, one in three women experience physical or sexual abuse during their life. For refugee and displaced women and children, the risk of violence is even higher. For Layla, the personal self-defence course was a new experience. "Everyone here has a story, and we can share and learn from each other," she said. "Suffering can create a new woman; suffering created me. Women can change the world and be who they want to be". Batoul Jaikat, one of the SheFighter instructors, told UNHCR that after the course, "women feel more confident, secure and strong physically and psychologically, ready to defend themselves from different violent situations".