16 days of activism: 16 self-defence workshops in 16 countries

A collage of image from the self-defence workshops

16 Days of Activism is an international campaign that runs from 25 November to 10 December to address violence against women and girls around the world.

This year, Dr Shruti Kapoor, Founder of Sayfty in partnership with UN Women, The United Nations Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development Working Group on Youth and Gender Equality and other key partnering organizations organized 16 self-defense workshops in 16 countries for young women to empower them with basic self-defense skills to keep them safer from gender-based violence.

“For young women, sexual abuse and harassment/eve teasing is, unfortunately, part of their daily routine. As a result, women are constantly on guard, fearing everything from the routine groping they suffer on public buses, to far more violent assaults like marital rape and domestic violence. This has not only eroded their self-confidence but also added to a layer of constant fear forcing them to structure their entire lives around protecting themselves and their children.” – Dr. Kapoor, Sayfty

The event was held in 16 countries including Bangladesh, Canada, US, India, South Africa, Nigeria, Turkey, Malaysia, and Mauritius, with the aim to equip young women with basic self-defense skills in order to boost their confidence, get them proactive about personal safety, and also showcase how self-defense can be a great tool while addressing the gaps in women’s safety.

I organized the one in Mauritius, and I would like to extend my thanks to Sayfty, for giving me this chance, and for believing in young people’s ability to bring change. The journey was filled with ups and downs, and the hardest task was convincing women to give self-defense a try. Despite sharing information about the free workshop with many universities, NGOs, women/youth centers, many women were reluctant to come to the event. It was difficult to get people to attend the event. Self-defense or martial arts is still not a popular part of our culture, and in Mauritius there are fewer girls doing martial arts than boys.

When I was younger I was around friends with a black belt, and supportive mentors who taught me few basic self-defense steps. I cannot stress enough how important self-defense is. Recently, I had a chat with Dr Sheetal Maniar, who holds a 4th Degree black belt in Military Martial Arts, is an apprentice instructor in Bruce Lee JKD and is the first Asian woman rider to get the ‘King of the Road’ designation, and she told me that “self-defense is not just a set of techniques but it is a state of mind, if you think you can, it’s almost certain you will.”

Our instructor, Avinash Ramtohul, Managing Director at UBL Group, and President of Mauritius Self-Defense Federation also said that self-defense is for everyone, there are no age or gender barriers and such workshops must be included in our school curriculum as a part of personal development. He also taught us that there is mental self-defense, and verbal self-defense, and self-defense is not only about kicks and blows. Concerning progress in self-defense, he said that now we have different types of martial arts competition in the world, but martial arts and self-defense is not always the same thing.

Getting more girls into self-defense is a matter of enhancement and awareness. Campaigns like the #16daysof activism are a great platform to sensitize people, and we need to keep doing these campaigns. Instead of feeling weak, and unable to defend ourselves, we will get the proper attitude on how to stay safe and be safe. Self-defense is also not static; it keeps updating, so regular campaigns are important. Self-defense is an everyday tool to fight violence but as our instructor mentioned, it teaches us so many things, like self-confidence, how to be calm and not react impulsively, overall wellness, nutrition and even self-discipline that can shape our personality, and as a result, create a better and safer environment.

When I asked Avinash to describe the youth in one word he said that the youth are superb, because they have abilities to do amazing stuff but sometimes, there is a lack of guidance.

We are extremely thankful to our instructor who accepted being part of this campaign, and shared his knowledge with us. The event was very helpful, and the techniques we learnt were interesting, and according to our survey, out of all people who came, everyone loved the training part. With this, a chain effect will be created, where people who attended the event, will educate their family, and pass on the self-defence skills to their loved ones, and slowly but surely, self-defence will sink into the Mauritian culture, and thus giving rise to a safer society.

To make this workshop success, there were many people behind the scenes who helped a lot. My parents, my biggest fans, my mentors, and all the people who came, and helped us promote the event, and send us good wishes. There were also hate comments surprisingly when people would just mock/ laugh, whenever I bring up the topic of self-defence, because they think it is too ‘Naruto, or dragon ball’, since they already built a concept in their heads. Others would clearly blink their eyes, saying that violence is not an issue. But, when we try to break the barriers that people build in their heads, and each time, we raise awareness. This is how we beat negativity and all the social constructs, and move forward. This quote by H Abiola sums this up:

“Guard your light and protect it. Move it forward into the world and be fully confident that if we connect light to light to light, and join the lights together of the one billion young people in our world today, we will be enough to set our whole planet aglow.”