I came across an article about a growing trend of women in Egypt that are learning silat, an Indonesian martial arts style (created by a woman, according to legend), to protect themselves from sexual harassment. It was pretty interesting so below are parts of it. The entire article is found here.
Fighting Their Abusers: How Egyptian women are using martial arts to combat sexual harassment
By Karim Zidan
Pencak silat — an umbrella term for the ancient Indonesian martial arts practiced in the cultural centre — is a fighting style that incorporates full-body strikes, grappling, and weaponry. The sport has since gained notoriety across the region and is now included in the Southeast Asian Games. It also made its Asian Games debut in Indonesia in 2018. However, few could have anticipated that Pencak silat would have such a profound impact on women in the Egyptian capital.
The Indonesian Cultural Centre in Dokki holds weekly training sessions involving all age groups. The main focus is on performative aspects of the martial arts, though it has become popular with Egyptian women, mainly teenagers and young adults, interested in learning a different form of self-defence. Dressed in red silat uniforms paired with black hijabs (head scarves), they would train in hand-to-hand combat and weapons, and do so alongside their male counterparts. When one of the women successfully disarmed and took down her opponent, the others clapped in support.
Fighting Sexual Harassment in Egypt
During the holy month of Ramadan, the Indonesian Cultural Centre in Cairo hosted group iftars (evening meals) for the men and women training in pencak silat. More than a dozen women attended the meal, some accompanied by small toddlers while others looked as though they were still in school themselves. They seated themselves on the carpeted floor and waited for the call to evening prayer that signalled it was time to break their fast. Despite the differences amongst these women, they were all united by a common goal: to defend themselves against sexual predators on the streets in Egypt.
Sexual harassment is a notorious problem throughout Egypt. A 2017 survey by UN Women and Promundo revealed that nearly 60% of Egyptian women have been sexually harassed while a 2017 Thomson Reuters poll that surveyed experts in women’s issues, Cairo was named the most dangerous city in the world for women. There are also no official statistic for crimes of sexual violence against women in Egypt because the vast majority of victim choose not to report the crimes, either out of shame or fear.
New laws were introduced into the Egyptian Constitution in 2014, while others such as Article 306 of the penal code, were amended to make verbal and physical assault punishable by up to 50,000 Egyptian pounds (approx. $2980 USD) and a prison sentence ranging from six months to five years.
Despite the recent changes to the legal framework, sexual violence remains a significant concern for most Egyptian women. They continue to face potential threats, which is why some have turned to self defence as a possible solution.
While offering women the opportunity to learn how to defend themselves is a way to improve their physical health and fitness, it can also increase confidence and mental strength. By teaching women to fight, Indonesian Cultural Centre in Cairo is empowering thousands of women who would otherwise be defenceless in the face of their harassers.
“Of course there are problems in the street,” Egyptian teenager Rahma Hatem told Reuters during a break from training. “If someone comes near me, I’m able to defend myself well. I have confidence now and no one can harass me because I can face them.”