My name is Lina, and when I was a kid, I used to believe that I am a superhero, [this is] because I am meant to be one,” Lina Khalifeh declared at the 2019 WE Empower pitch night hosted by billionaire fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg in her New York studio apartment. WE Empower intern, Revere Wood elaborates on how Lina Khalifeh and SheFighter are continuing to support the SDGs while navigating through the challenges of COVID-19.
Superheroes do not need superpowers to be great; what makes them great is their ability to protect and change a vulnerable community. Khalifeh has created a space where women affected by domestic violence can learn to defend themselves and gain independence. By building confidence in these women, Khalifeh gives them superpowers. Khalifeh is the founder of SheFighter and a 2019 WE Empower UN SDG Challenge Awardee. SheFighter is the first self-defense studio in Jordan that focuses on empowering Arab women. SheFighter intends to reduce violence against women and empower them to fight for their socio-political rights and freedoms. Moreover, it provides classes for both men and women to assess gender roles in society critically. By offering courses that strengthen both the mind and body, the organization aspires to build women’s confidence to support and defend themselves. Khalifeh is a champion of sustainable equitability, and her organization is making profound impacts on the Sustainable Development Goals.
Championing an equitable future
“It’s kind of funny, I did not know what the [SDGs] were until I went to South Korea, and I was giving [training] to kids in school. There was a 10-year-old boy who was extremely smart [and he asked] how my work was aligned with the [SDGs]? And I asked, what does the [SDGs] mean? […] [It wasn’t until I met these kids that] I realized my work is united with the [SDGs],” Khalifeh remarked jovially during the ILA Women in Leadership Conference. By empowering women to support and defend themselves against violence, SheFighter champions the UN SDGs. The mind and body are interconnected; one cannot be liberated from fear unless the other is as well. SheFighter achieves SDG 3 Good Health and Well-being by empowering both the mind and body through self-defense classes. The organization has trained over four thousand Syrian refugees in self-defense, which has dramatically changed these women’s lives. SheFighter has created specific training for women with disabilities to sustain and defend themselves as well.
On top of its self-defense classes, the organization provides seminars about domestic violence, sexual assault, and verbal harassment. By working through the fears and anxieties surrounding violence, SheFighter strengthens women’s confidence to protect themselves from assault. Some cultures have deep roots in internalized sexism, which leads women to believe they do not deserve rights to their bodies. SheFighter helps to remove these stigmas and supports women’s emancipation. Through empowering women to defend their rights and strengthen their roles in society, SheFighter forwards SDG 5 Gender Equality. By working with UNHCR, USAID, Oxfam, IOM, and UPP, the Italian organization, SheFighter, also supports SDG 17 Partnerships to Achieve the Goal.
A fight to remain open during quarantine
COVID-19 significantly impacts businesses worldwide, but it widely affects those who rely on in-person services. SheFighter is a self-defense studio that depends on contact between trainers and participants. Khalifeh noted that she “was feeling down the first two weeks of the lockdown with no solution in my mind. [...] [She] realized after taking a break that online training would be a possible option.” Thanks to the excellent leadership of Khalifeh, SheFighter is now offering online self-defense classes so that women can continue to feel empowered. WE Empower co-founder and co-chair Amanda Ellis and support partner Louise Ing from Dentons attended one of SheFighter’s invigorating online training class early into the COVID crisis from their homes in Hawai’i. “We both found the online training so convenient and it was wonderful to learn more about Lina’s psychological and physical approach to self-defense. A splendid example of a positive pivot to reach a bigger audience,” remarked Amanda Ellis. If Khalifeh can offer one piece of leadership advice, her advice would be to “take care of your mind. You will have many great ideas, but if you are stressed, you will never go anywhere.” She emphasizes the need to step back and take a break; otherwise, the best solution might not be clear. She would like to give thanks to her WE Empower community; without their support and advice, Khalifeh and SheFighter would not be in the position that they are in now.