What is feminist self-defence?

Feminist self-defence or empowerment self-defence is a holistic approach to the primary prevention of gender-based violence. Contrary to traditional/mainstream self-defence approaches, it:

  • takes into account the entire continuum of violence against women and provides tools to counter not only physical attacks, but also discrimination, harassment and microaggressions, including by intimates and acquaintances;
  • bears in mind the intersection of systems of oppression other than sexism ;
  • provides a broad range of mental, emotional, verbal and physical tools to resist violence and discrimination;
  • attributes the sole responsibility for violence to the perpetrator;
  • pays specific attention to survivors of violence, including tools for trauma care;
  • focusses on the embodiment of power;
  • questions power differentials between teachers and participants, among others through the co-construction of knowledge and knowhow;
  • helps to overcome women’s isolation through a collective learning process.

Feminist self-defence has consistently demonstrated its positive impact on women’s fear, anger, self-image and body image, self-efficacy, and rape myth belief. In addition, women trained in feminist self-defence are significantly less often confronted with physical and sexual violence than others, and once they are attacked, are more often able to defend themselves successfully and remain unharmed. Feminist self-defence is therefore one of the most promising tools for the prevention of gender-based violence.

In spite of this evidence, feminist self-defence faces many structural obstacles, from a lack of funding and public recognition to its absence from international human rights instruments and national action plans. Feminist self-defence providers often operate in difficult economic and political circumstances and, as a consequence, do not have the means to make their activities as inclusive and accessible as they would like to. For example, women with disabilities participate less often in self-defence workshops due to inaccessible rooms, transport and prices, as well as teachers and organisations lacking the competences to accommodate their needs. It is even more difficult for them to become feminist self-defence teachers themselves.

NO MEANS NO aims to make feminist self-defence accessible to women with disabilities by tackling three of these factors. On the one hand, more teachers will be trained in the competences needed to accommodate women with special needs, either individually or in disability-specific groups. On the other hand, the project funding includes resources covering the additional costs for accessible rooms, sign language interpretation and communications. Finally, it provides self-defence teachers with varied levels of ability the possibility to work together and learn from each other and to make feminist self-defence more inclusive and accessible in the long term.