While women learn self-defence to protect themselves against violence and harassment, it’s a bigger commitment than may be expected because of the needed skills.
In March 2021, APPG UN reported that “71% of women of all ages in the UK have experienced some form of sexual harassment in a public space,” in the Prevalence and Reporting of Sexual Harassment in UK Public Spaces report. In the 18-24-year-old age group, 86 per cent experience some form of harassment while in public, while three per cent reported never experiencing any.
Canadian law states that with self-defence, only necessary force can be used. Instead of weapons like tasers and pepper sprays, which are popular in America for women to carry, they are illegal firearms in Canada. Some women instead have opted to learn martial arts in order to feel ready and capable were some forms of harassment to happen. However, many also say that in order to feel secure even with training, it requires many years and a large commitment.
“I actually remember what I learned now and it’s been really good, helpful, I’m glad I did it,” Kiera Maguire, who took a self-defence class years ago in Girl Scouts says.
Although she says she remembers the skills and feels able to do them, she doesn’t know if she would use them in a real-life situation.
“I’ve been in that position and the reality is in that situation, going hand to hand combat is not even on my radar, I know I’m going to lose. Yeah, it’s helpful I suppose, if I want to try, but I’ve never used it. I’d be scared it would make it worse.”
Samantha Massett, an 18-year-old student who took taekwondo for a year says she often finds herself thinking about what she would do in an encounter.
“You know if I were in an uber, what I would do if the uber driver like reached their hand behind and tried to grab my wrist. I go through the motions in my head pretty often just in everyday life.”
Alex Iwaniuk, a black belt in taekwondo and teacher for two years proposed only one question she would use to convince people to take classes: “Would you be able to defend yourself if I attacked you right now?”
Iwaniuk explains that since learning, she feels safer and more empowered, however, it took advancing in levels before she felt that way and didn’t when she only had basic skills.
“Sometimes I’ll literally go out at two in the morning in the dark because I’m not afraid because I feel so confident in that I’m really not afraid of anything or anyone anymore.”
Iwaniuk says that some might not be aware of the commitment it takes to learn. However, there are stories that made her know the commitment was worth it.
“I was waiting outside the bathroom at Zaks Diner for a friend, and this man came up to me and kissed me, and I punched him as hard as I can in the gut, he fell to the floor, fetal position, and could barely say ‘I’m sorry.’”
“It just shocked me that a man thought he could invade my personal space and touch me, kiss me, I was uncomfortable. Even in those little instances, it made me feel proud and powerful and confident that I was able to take care of myself.”