by Jayati Ramakrishnan
Women around the world face threats to their safety, from domestic abuse to sexual violence from unknown aggressors. While many nations are slow in bringing up their standards for women's rights, some have begun to promote safety for women in a variety of ways.
One thing to take note of in various countries is the topic of self-defense: how do different nations support or provide opportunities for women to learn self-defense? Do these nations acknowledge the problem of assailants attacking women, or do they focus more on trying to teach women to be responsible for protecting themselves?
There is more than meets the eye here. There's still a long way to go, and many still incorrectly assume that women are the ones causing their sexual assault by any action or wardrobe choice when, in fact, it's always the fault of the aggressor. Nevertheless, it's important for women to be able to assert and defend themselves, as well. What follows is a brief look at a few of the self-defense initiatives recently publicized in three different countries.
Women's rights seems to be getting more attention than it has in years, following a string of highly-publicized and reported-upon rapes in the last decade. The publicity has given way to increased awareness about the problems that women face daily, and sparked some interest in helping women defend and protect themselves from some of these issues. The Huffington Post reported that New Delhi had seen increased numbers of women purchasing pepper spray and even applying for gun licenses. Eve-teasing is a common occurrence, where men catcall and verbally harass women. Several larger cities in India offer self-defense and martial arts classes, including mixed martial arts, Karate and Kalaripayattu, an ancient Indian martial art. While several workplaces have security guards, women are now starting to take matters into their own hands and learn how to defend themselves from assailants.
Kenya has extremely high instances of rape, and there have been several reports lately of tactics women in the East African nation have developed to defend themselves.
The capital city of Nairobi took a collective approach to sexual assault in 2010, when the group "No Means No Worldwide" started teaching self-defense classes to schoolgirls. They took self-defense a step further, starting a separate program for boys, teaching them about the problems rampant in the country, and encouraging them to intervene when they see a rape or assault happening.
The New York Post reported on another program in Nairobi, which teaches elderly women to fight back against sexual assault, which older women commonly face, particularly in poorer areas. Using their canes, the women are taught to poke attackers in the eyes, or hit them in the noses or groins with a walking stick. Some women, unable to move quickly, attempt to scare off assailants by pretending to be mad or insane. "You act like you are crazy and go toward the attacker," said instructor Jacqueline Mukami. "You scare him because this is not the person he expected."
The United States offers many programs and support groups for women and sexual assault survivors, but still has a myriad instances of harassment and violence. It's possible to find classes for self-defense and martial arts in most cities. One important realm where self-defense classes could become more prominent are on college campuses, where sexual assault and rape are a huge problem. Some college classes do offer self-defense classes. Women are also increasingly carrying pepper spray and other weapons for self-defense.
Like many other countries around the world, there's a disconnect in America between women and many men, simply in terms of how much women have to worry about sexual assault and self-defense, versus how much men think about the same thing. A University of Iowa college student created an art project, taking photos of women on her campus holding various self-defense items they carry - including brass knuckles, cans of mace, and rape whistles. The student, Taylor Yocom, told U.S.A Today that she became inspired to do the project after a discussion about a series of sexual assaults taking place in taxis in Iowa. She added that she wanted to showcase the frequency with which women feel unsafe. "There was definitely an imbalance about who felt vulnerable," she said in an interview with the newspaper.
This is a limited look at the self-defense options in each country. Nevertheless, while it's important for women to learn self-defense and any opportunity to protect oneself is a good one, the culpability still lies with the assailant - not the person being assaulted. Ranjana Kumari of the Centre for Social Research in New Delhi expressed concern that the increased interest in self-defense, while positive, detracted from the larger problem that still exists.
"Why should we live in a society where every woman is made responsible for her security and safety?" she said in a Huffington Post article. "What we need, really, is a system which will protect us."
Kumari makes a good point, and overall, this is an institutional problem that needs to be addressed from multiple angles. In the meantime, though, it's important for women to be equipped for self-defense, and know of the opportunities available to them.