If you are a woman reading this article 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, you are free to choose your partner, dress as you like, live where you want. You probably can manage to live on your income, without your partner's support. And these are all things you should be proud you have achieved and celebrate for.
But parallel to this reality you have most probably been a victim of sexual harassment, belittlement and one in four has experienced an attempted rape. And unfortunately you may even be dead, buried in the ground due to your partner's violence and brutal taking of your life. And you my dear sister, do not have a voice anymore, it is already too late to recount the days of your horror and fear. You felt vulnerable, you felt unprotected, you may have reported your suspicions to the police but hey, nobody really took you seriously and it pains me to say this to you: the violent taking of your life has been diminished to a sad statistic.
Twenty is the average number of women killed in Israel over the last years due to domestic violence. I search on the internet and find these quotes: An estimated one in 5 women will be a victim of sexual violence globally. And every one in three Israeli women falls victim of sexual assault. Moreover, Violence against single women rises 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 as I was walking away from a book reading presentation of Moshe Menasheof's recent book on Dreams and Memory that took place at the Holzer bookstore on Jaffa Road in Jerusalem last night. Upon walking back to take the bus home, I encountered groups of teenage boys and felt conscious of my being a woman on my own at 11pm at night, walking down Jaffa Street surrounded by groups of men. It felt uneasy.
But having practiced self-defense for a year and being a graduate of the Impact course in self-defense, I felt confident in my ability to stand up for myself and protect my body should there had been a need. Suppose somebody had grabbed me on the shoulder, I would have turned around, checked as to his intentions and if judged to be of harassing nature, he would have received an elbow right in his face. And my abilities gave me confidence, as I was walking by myself from Jaffa to King George Street.
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 our physical bodies we are not free people. We will only feel free and equal when we reclaim our right to our self-defense, and master the skills that defending our bodies 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 on our basic right of self-defense, and rely on the men to take care of us.
The self-defense awareness which is very basic yet still not widespread and internalized by all 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 in my age and older, fighting to defend their bodies from attackers. I read Ellen Snortland's book Beauty Bites Beast and saw the film Ellen made telling the story of women learning self-defense around the world and the impact that had on their lives.
In my mind, learning self-defense is as basic as learning to brush one's teeth. Both are lessons that learning them will serve your body and safeguard your well-being for the rest of your life.
So dear girl and woman and dear man, father of a girl, brother of a woman, look into the matter of 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 for self-protection and defense. We owe it to ourselves; we owe it to our bodies. Let us master the skills to protect ourselves by ourselves as women. That mastery will move us all a few steps ahead towards dignity, equality and self-respect that we all deserve, whether born in a man's or woman's body.