An “unusual” hero

If you were to open Google Translate this instant and type in the word “hero” so that it could be translated to Arabic, the word you would most probably get is بطل, or in English letters, Batal. The word, consistent with the grammatical rules of the Arabic language, references the male gender solely, bringing forward a rather predefined concept of what a hero should be when Arab individuals are asked: “Can you name a national hero from your country?” Rather shamefully, I cannot separate myself from such a mindset. However, after asking myself: “Can you name a national hero from Jordan?” I believe I have come with an answer that breaks the very essence of the conventional boundaries surrounding the word “hero” in the Arab world, and is irrefutably deserving of holding such a grand title. The answer is a woman: Lina Khalifeh.

Violence against women in Jordan is an issue that has been addressed time and time again. Following a national workshop convened on 25/08/2008, the national definition of violence against women in Jordan was agreed upon, and thus was read to be “any act perpetrated against a woman and resulting in physical, sexual or mental harm, or in any form of suffering, such as coercion, compulsion or denial of human rights, irrespective of whether such act takes place in the framework of family relations, social relations, or occupational relations.” Furthermore, supported by the research of C.J Clark (2005) addressing a pool of about 600 Jordanian women, nearly “78.7% of women suffer from husband control and are not allowed to express their opinion. Moreover, 54% of husbands feel jealous and resort to confining the wife’s movement, while 50% ban the wife from visiting the doctor.” Thus it is rather obvious to say that violence against women in Jordan is a predominant issue, and any effort to eradicate it would be considered, at the very least, heroic.

Addressing such an issue and attempting to eradicate it is exactly what Khalifeh has been doing for the past four years, specifically by establishing the first self-defense studio for women in Jordan and the Middle East, SheFighter. The story of Khalifeh’s founding of SheFighter started in 2010 when she was “inspired to teach self-defense to women after learning that a friend was experiencing physical and emotional abuse.” Having an extensive background in the martial arts allowed her to start nurturing such an inclination by beginning to train women in her parents’ basement; setting the foundation of SheFighter, which opened two years later in the capital, Amman. The studio not only has been able to implement projects that would aid strictly local, Jordanian women, but also tackle a more international level of assistance. The studio organized an intensive self-defense training program for Syrian refugees in Jordan. It is because of such efforts and attempts of spreading confidence and empowerment among women that one writer is able to identify Lina Khalifeh as a national hero in Jordan.

The efforts of Khalifeh have not been unnoticed on the international stage, thus accrediting the extent of her strive for change. Khalifeh received the “Laureate Global Award” in Brazil in the October of 2013, acknowledging SheFighter as “one of the best social business ideas in the MENA region.” She was also a part of the One Young World Summit 2015, giving a speech about the story of how she founded SheFighter. Perhaps the greatest testament to Khalifeh’s efforts was when the President of the United States, Barack Obama, remarked: “So far, Lina has helped about 10,000 women learn how to protect themselves; thank you Lina, we want to be your partner in helping women to live with dignity and safety.” Conclusively, although Google Translate might have a male-infused translation to the word hero, Batal (بطل), Khalifeh was, is, and will keep on reminding the very fabric of Arab conventions that the word hero can also be translated to the female-infused form of the Arabic translation, that is بطلة, Batalah

by Hamzeh D.