Holding Their Own

by Search - Nepal

on January 26, 2018

This article was originally published by My Republica on December 11, 2017.

“People in our society have this notion that being a girl means being weak. We want to prove them wrong.”

Renuka Chaudhary, 19, was walking to her house one evening when she was cornered by a group of hooligans. “They touched me inappropriately, and hurled obscenities at me,” she shivers as she recalls those moments. “I started crying. They looked at me amusingly and left. Never have I felt so worthless in my life,” she said.

Her story echoes a state of helplessness that she and her friends feel when they are harassed on public buses, on the streets, or in their schools. “When you feel powerless, your confidence depletes and self-loathing and negativity creep in,” she said. The adolescent girls were taking turns narrating stories of sexual abuse and harassment in a self-defense training in Parasi, Nawalparasi organized by our Nepal team.

“People have this notion that being a girl means being weak,” said Chaudhary, “but by participating in the self-defense training, we want to prove them wrong. We want to show that we now have the skills to defend ourselves.”

The self-defense training is an evidence-based course designed for people of all age groups to hone their violence prevention skills. Audio, visual, and physical trainings allow participants to effectively deal with even life-threatening situations. The trainings also includes experiential learning tools to overcome anxiety and develop situational awareness.

Weak and fragile?

“With this training, we want adolescent girls to build their confidence to deal with risky and life-threatening situations and also encourage them to report cases of violence to the police,” said Arman Raj Pandey, a coach from PARITRAN, a self-defense training provider.

In the last fiscal year, a total of 2,156 cases (815 of them rapes) of violence against women were reported to the police. The majority of the cases dealt with violence against adolescent girls. Nepal Police have also launched many campaigns to curb violence against women and girls, the latest being the ‘Safety Pin Campaign’ to curb sexual harassment. Police in plain clothes conduct sting operations in public transports and take immediate action if anyone reports harassment.

The patriarchal society underestimates women-related problems. Women and girls are often thought of as weak and fragile. The boundaries put on their decision-making power at home and in their communities result in more violence against them. Self-defense training can change this. It is a fact that violence against women and girls is not inevitable and early intervention and awareness greatly help.

Training participants highlighted how violence from family, friends, and peers against women is often dismissed because of the fear of stigma and discrimination. This often leads to ‘self-blaming’ and further retribution from the predators. Participants also cited lack of knowledge on sexual harassment, reporting mechanism, and counseling contributed to anxiety, mental trauma, and fear of socialization, which in turn affected their personal and professional development.

Breaking barriers

The training is a step toward breaking gender-stereotypes on strength-based learning. As the adolescent girls in training practice their kicks, strikes, and blocking skills, there is a smile of triumph on their faces. They show that girls don’t need others to protect them and establish that they are capable of taking care of themselves.

Lessons on instincts and intuition, fear control and trust building, and self-defense tips provided by facilitators not only empower adolescent girls to protect themselves but also instill in them the confidence to deal with any adversity. Wiping the beads of sweat off her forehead, Chaudhary shares her favorite self-defense tactic: “If someone tries to grope me, I scream loudly, and use my strike skills to hit vulnerable areas such as eyes, the groin, or knees. And I will escape the situation as soon as possible”.

Inspired by self-defense training, Chaudhary and her friends have started their own Girls Self-defense Group. They meet on the last day of every month and provide self-defense training to adolescent girls. They also take part in intergenerational dialogue with police and local government officials on safety and security issues.

The takeaway from these trainings is clear: a tectonic shift in people’s behavior, attitude, and perception takes time, but for now, there’s no harm in equipping girls with the skills to defend themselves.

Ayush Joshi is a development communicator and Balika Chaudhary is a peacebuilder at Search for Common Ground – Nepal.