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Challenging Perceptions of the Role of Women in Jordan: The SheFighter Story

Lina Khalifeh | March 7, 2014

In 2010, I began thinking about training women in self-defense. As a Taekwondo 3DAN black belt expert, I was more than qualified—but I hesitated. Most women are not typically interested in the male-dominated martial arts that inspire self-defense moves. The idea of starting a business in Jordan, my home country, was even more daunting because of its male-dominant culture and the fact that many women, especially those living in rural areas, generally aren’t free to express themselves.

I wasn’t the only one who was unsure of my potential for success.  Friends, family, even strangers discouraged me from getting involved in a business that challenged society’s expectations of how women should behave.

Taking a doubtful chance, I taped a small paper ad for my business “SheFighter” at the basement of my house. To my surprise, I started getting phone calls.

My first two clients were young women—they wanted to learn self-defense to feel empowered from the inside and physically strong.  Seeing their interest and excitement gave me the push I needed to fully commit to making the business work. These two women enjoyed the first training, and began to return with a few more friends each time. I started getting lots of phone calls and clients.

I realized then that women need, and want, self-defense training more than any man in Jordan. The women of SheFighter had proved me and the other doubters wrong.

To me, being a leader means being confident enough to find your inner strength. Self-defense empowers women. It increases their physical strength, but more importantly, it raises their self-esteem. I have watched women and girls who felt powerless transform into confident leaders.

In 2012, after teaching classes out of my basement for two years, I opened the SheFighter self-defense studio—it was, and still is, the first and only self-defense studio for women in the Middle East.

In 2013, SheFighter was more successful than any other gym or training studio in Jordan. By providing high-quality instruction and developing an environment that makes women feel comfortable, our brand and reputation has spread quickly through word of mouth. We are well on our way to our goal of empowering three million women in the Middle East by 2020. 

To reach that goal, one of the things we do is a “Training of Trainers” program. We train SheFighter students to become leaders who share self-defense skills in rural areas, home to many women who need our program the most.

I became a leader by following my passion for martial arts and women’s empowerment. At SheFighter, we help other women become leaders by encouraging them to be who they want to be.

Every day I see women underestimate themselves. Many do not see the power they have inside to become amazing leaders. In these moments, I always start by sharing my favorite quote: “Speak Up, even if your voice shakes.”

March 8th is International Women’s Day—what better day for women everywhere to speak the words that have been sealed behind closed lips, to be bold about who they want to be. Some of our voices may shake, but together, we will be heard.

Lina Khalifeh is a 2013 Laureate Global Fellow, 2012 BADIR Fellow, and Founder and Trainer at SheFighter—the first women’s self-defense studio in the Middle East. Learn more about Lina in this video.