Sun, 20 Jul 2003

Women take up the fight to defend themselves

Hera Diani, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

In this cosmopolitan jungle where security comes at a high price, anyone can become a victim of crime.

Nevertheless, women are still the most vulnerable group, with violence against them rampant in public places, the workplace and the household.

According to the most recent data, a woman is raped in this country every five hours, with most of the cases left unreported due to shame and the feeling that the authorities are helpless or unconcerned.

Aside from sexual violence, muggings and robberies fill the crime sections of newspapers.

"Power in this society is still measured by the physical," criminologist and women's activist Purnianti from the University of Indonesia told The Jakarta Post.

When assaults do occur, women often cannot turn to anyone for help.

Dini, 25, was sitting in a bus on her way to work when a man grabbed her hair from behind, preventing her from moving.

"His accomplice then took my wallet from my bag before they both left the bus. Only then did the other passengers -- there were lots of them -- ask whether I was OK. Of course I wasn't OK! Why didn't they do something?" she said.

When incidents occur in the workplace, mostly involving sexual harassment, women are often blamed for "inviting" the harassment.

And the very same boyfriends and husbands who society has given the role of "defending" women are often the perpetrators of domestic violence.

Perhaps a woman just has to take matters into her own hands and defend herself, and there is a growing interest among women in the capital in self-defense classes.

"I've never experienced an assault, but I'm really worried about it because the crime rate is so high. So I'm taking this class to anticipate it, especially because I drive by myself all the time," said Kara, a 20-something professional woman.

She has been taking the class for the past three months at the Art of Combat center for self-defense and survival training.

Established in 1998, the center does not specialize in women's self-defense courses, but rather urban survival strategies for everybody.

"In this big city, the crime rate is high but we can't depend on others to help. So the only solution is to defend ourselves," said the center's founder, Sonny M. Lalwani.

Sonny pointed to the almost even ratio between male and female members at the center as evidence of a growing awareness among women about defending themselves.

When the center first opened, 90 percent of the members were men.

"Now we have around 400 members, and 40 percent of them are women. Their age is up to 40 years old, and most of them are professional women."

Many of the women members, Sonny added, have experienced an assault, mugging or sexual harassment in public places, like the elevator or a parking lot.

"The sad thing is that many of them are also victims of abusive boyfriends," Sonny said.

Since the idea is urban self-defense, the movements taught in class are simpler than traditional self-defense moves. The concept has to be as practical and adaptive as possible to the women's needs.

"Women grow their nails, so it's impossible to teach them to do punches. Instead, we emphasize palm strikes. That also goes for kicking and other movements, which we adjust to the clothes women wear, for instance," Sonny said.

There are basic, intermediate, advanced, professional and master classes, with each lasting three months.

Programs include simulated fighting, cardio-boxing, muscle maintenance and meditation.

Besides self-defense, members are also given some tips on security strategies that can be used when they are driving by themselves or staying in a hotel, for instance.

Another place offering self-defense classes is the Grande Body Life Gym at Pasaraya Grande Blok M in South Jakarta.

The gym, which also has a class at the nearby ASEAN Secretariat, offers a 12-week basic self-defense course.

"Our target is working women who don't have much spare time, so we make it as practical as possible," said class founder and instructor Dedy.

Established in February last year, the class teaches a self- defense technique that is a combination of kickboxing, aikido and Brazilian jujitsu.

"Brazilian jujitsu is especially useful to escape from rape attempts because it teaches you how to fight on the ground," Dedy said, adding there were 22 women taking the class.

Kara said she was more confident and secure after taking the course.

"I've never practiced it though, only on my male friends. But it works as I can fight and keep them in a lock until they can't move!" she said smiling.

Purnianti hoped that the self-defense classes were not popular due to their novelty value.

"Self-defense is important, especially in a sexual harassment case because it is difficult to prove. Hopefully, the self- defense class will be a permanent phenomena, so that it can reduce the number of cases of violence against women."

Keeping a cool head in a crisis

"Every woman has the potential to be taught self defense," said Sonny M. Lalwani from Art of Combat center of self defense and survival training.

However, some women (and men) panic and forget what they have learned when faced by a crisis situation.

"They're excellent in class, but when it really happens, they freeze up. It's a psychological thing that has to be trained," he said.

Teaching self defense for women, he added, mostly focused on developing emotional self control.

"A brother of a member had to be hospitalized because he scared his sister, and the latter was so jumpy that she attacked her brother," he said.

The advantage for women is that they tend to keep a cool head in a crisis.

"Men tend to be quick tempered while women aren't. That's a good concept for a security strategy."

Art of Combat, Karinda Plaza B1/91, Jl. Karang Tengah Raya, Lebak Bulus, South Jakarta. Tel. (021) 7693008,

Women Self Defense, Grande Body Life Gym, Pasaraya Grande Blok M, Contact person: Dedy 0816 181 3334