RONIT BURDETTE (center), the IDF’s first female parachuting instructor, poses recently with a class of today’s women instructors.
(photo credit: IDF)
If you are a woman reading this, stop and pat yourself on the back for the long way you and your fellow sisters have walked. You probably have an education, a job, and are free to choose your partner, dress as you like, live where you want. You can probably manage to live on your income, without your partner’s support. These are all things you should be proud you have achieved, and cause for celebration.
But parallel to this reality you have most probably been a victim of sexual harassment and belittlement, and one in four women has experienced attempted rape. And then there are those dead due to a partner’s violence. These dear, departed sisters do not have a voice anymore; it is too late for them to recount their days of horror and fear.
Twenty is the average number of women killed annually in Israel due to domestic violence. A quick Internet search uncovers quotes like this: “An estimated one in five women will be a victim of sexual violence globally,” and “one in three Israeli women falls victim to sexual assault.” Moreover, “Violence against single women has risen nearly twenty-fold since 2003.” And sadly, “welfare officials estimate that only one percent of the 200,000 men who engage in domestic abuse attend violence prevention centers.”
This is all very bad news.
I was thinking of these statistics on the way from a book-reading presentation of Moshe Menasheof’s recent Dreams and Memory at the Holzer bookstore on Jaffa Road in Jerusalem. On my way to the bus stop, I encountered several groups of teenage boys, and felt very conscious of being a woman on her own at 11 p.m., surrounded by groups of men. It felt uneasy.
But having practiced self-defense for a year and being a graduate of the Impact course, I felt confident in my ability to stand up for myself. And that brings me to the basis, in my mind, of women’s empowerment: as long as we women rely on men – our dads, brothers, partners – to defend us, we are not free. We will only be free and equal when we reclaim our right to self-defense and master the skills that defending ourselves requires. In nature, female and male animals alike know how to defend themselves and protect their young. They are expected to do it whether male or female. It is only in us humans that women have been asked to give up the basic right of self-defense and rely on men to take care of us.
The self-defense awareness which is very basic yet still not widespread came to me gradually through being exposed to my daughters’ judo classes at a self-defense school for girls in Jerusalem. There, when waiting to pick them up I was exposed to films showing women my age and older fighting to defend themselves. I read Ellen Snortland’s book Beauty Bites Beast and saw the film she made telling the story of women learning self-defense around the world and the impact it had on their lives.
In my mind, learning self-defense is as basic as learning to brush one’s teeth. Both are lessons that will safeguard you for the rest of your life.
So dear girl and woman, and dear man, father, brother, look into self-defense for you and your daughters, sisters and mothers. Go out to your schools, community centers, synagogues, churches and mosques and organize a course for you and your friends. Let us all reclaim our basic right to self-defense. We owe it to ourselves. Let us master the skills to protect ourselves by ourselves. That mastery will move us all a few steps toward the dignity, equality and self-respect that we all deserve.
The author is a poet who was born in Athens and lives in Jerusalem with her family.