December 2, 2020

Women fight back: the man behind the teachings of the art of self-defence

City: Addis AbabaFeatured

The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is an annual international campaign that…

Avatar: Zemen Mekonnen
By Zemen Mekonnen

Zemen Mekonnen is a Content Creater at Addis Zeybe. She is a graduate from Addis Abeba University School of Law and Governance.

Women fight back: the man behind the teachings of the art of self-defence

The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is an annual international campaign that kicks off on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and runs until 10 December, Human Rights Day. It is used as an organizing strategy by individuals and organizations around the world to call for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls. This year it is celebrated under the theme "Orange the World: Fund, Respond, Prevent, Collect!" In light of that Addis Zeybe would like to shine a light on something that is a big part of the 16 days activism- Self- Defense as a tool to fight against Gender based violence

Gender-based violence as the name indicates is violence directed against an individual because of the person's gender or violence that affects persons of a particular gender disproportionately. According to UNHCR, Gender-based violence (GBV) is a serious violation of human rights and a life-threatening health and protection issue. It is estimated that one in three women will experience sexual or physical violence in their lifetime.

Women’s self-defence (WSD) is often associated with the early years of the Women’s Liberation Movement in the 1970s, but earlier recorded classes took place at the beginning of the 20th century, organised by suffragists in the United Kingdom and understood as both a means of emancipation and self-protection. In Ethiopia, self-defence as an effective tool to prevent Gender-based violence has not been used effectively, but Martial Art Master Mengistu Minale is working to change that. 

Mengistu is an author of the new book, The Art of Self Defence. He has been working on teaching Self-defence to women and girls for over twelve years. He has been working with non-governmental organizations in designing and coordinating projects. Mengistu defines violence as "forcing others to do something they are unwilling to do using force, threat or undue influence. The violence can be emotional, sexual or economical." Violence against women and girls is a pressing crisis in Ethiopia. A 2016 Health and Demographic survey conducted by the Central Statistical Agency of Ethiopia suggested that nearly one-third of women aged between 15 and 49 have experienced either physical or sexual violence.

Mengistu says " Self-Defense is the art of protecting oneself from an attack. It is a right we all have but must be exercised with proper technical knowledge"  Generally self-Defence is defined as the defence of one's interests, through the use of physical force, which is permitted in certain cases as a response to the violation. Its goal involves protecting one's health and safety. 

Although provisions that govern the act of self-defence are found scattered in criminal and non-contractual codes, Ethiopia’s laws authorise the use of force as a legal guarantee in the event of an emergency. Kaleab Kassaye, Criminal Law expert, discussed with Addis Zeybe about the matter. He stated "no comprehensive single piece of legislation governing self defence exists but we can gather from the here and there scattered articles of the criminal code of Ethiopia and the tort laws that self defence is in fact recognised"

Women's self-defence training arose at the beginning of the twentieth century parallel to women's rights and voting in the United States and the United Kingdom. Women’s training in self-defence was both a reflection of and a response to the broader cultural issues of the time, including the women’s rights movement and the campaign for the vote. In discussing the importance of learning self-defence techniques Mengistu mentioned "I believe to solve the problem that is violence against women, societal change must come and stronger law enforcement is needed but this needs time and resources. In the meantime, women and girls must learn the art of self-defence." 

Self-defence techniques and recommended behaviours in the threat of violence are systemic. Mengistu states "when women or girls face violence and they are in a situation where they can't get any help they should have the right mental and physical preparation to deal with an attack before, during or after it happens adequately."  Women’s training in self-defence can be both a reflection of and a response to the broader inequality issues existing in a society. 

In his book The Art of Self Defence, Mengistu informs about violence and it's nature, the skills one needs to develop in terms of prevention, such as psychological, social and physical skills and how one can protect themselves from sexual assault. The book discusses what parents should teach their children to protect themselves from sexual abuse. "The art of self-defence is unique and is the first of its kind in our country," he states. "The book is designed for women and children." 

Access to the book should be expanded to enable children and women to benefit from the content and to protect themselves from abuse. Mengistu mentions that martial arts professionals in different regions of Ethiopia should also use their knowledge along with the book to provide special training designed for women to eliminate gender-based violence.

Deterrence of gender-based violence is the responsibility of all. Scaling up prevention efforts that address unequal gender power relations as a root cause of gender-based violence is important. Educating oneself and creation of awareness to others about the gender-based violation is key, as the first step of prevention can be education. 
Mengistu adds "government agencies and women should not be the only ones working on prevention of gender-based violence, each of us has the responsibility to prevent violence. I strongly believe that men have a responsibility to care for and protect girls and women in our homes, communities, and professions, and awareness about gender equality should be widely created in schools."  The book is one mechanism of prevention of Gender-based violence, "I call on those who can afford to buy the book to give it to those who can't afford it, and I call on organizations that can help or sponsors in making it available in different parts of Ethiopia" says Mengistu.