Self defence; the best defence

Fists fly as fifteen girls demonstrate their prowess in a martial arts display fit for a Jackie Chan movie.

It's enthralling to watch, but this isn't about aggression, it's about empowerment and providing these young women with the confidence to walk the streets knowing they are equipped to protect themselves.

Violence is prevalent on the streets of Delhi, and sexual harassment, in particular, is a risk every girl is very much aware of. Through a ground-breaking World Vision program, these young girls have been working with the Delhi police to learn self-defence with the aim of building resilience and confidence as well as strengthen their relationships with the cities law enforcement arm.

"When girls go out of their home they are teased. Boys brush against their shoulder or grab their hands, so parents are apprehensive in sending their girls outside for risk of security of the girls." explains Kiran, the leader of the very first self-defence group in World Vision's operational area of North West Delhi.

We knew that safety for women was an issue within the community so we started this group where we have a platform to discuss such issues and seek advice. We would try to sort these issues out within ourselves, but where we couldn't we spoke to World Vision, and they connected us with the police who taught us this training.

The program has been incredibly popular and spread throughout World Vision's projects in North-West Delhi. Mohini, is another inspiring young leader of the Damini self-defence group. The name Damini was in recognition of the young woman who was brutally raped and murdered in Delhi, an incident that a lot of Global attention and had a lasting impact on the girls of this city.

"The name Damini was chosen as a name that constantly reminds us of that fateful incident and instills the need to protect ourselves from an incident like that," said Mohini.

There have been further incidents even closer to their home, when a five year old was raped in the community by her own father. This constantly reminds the group, the dire need for being vigilant at all times.

These type of dangers highlight why the partnership with the Delhi police is so critical, as it is not only teaching self-defence techniques, but also providing a pathway for early interventions, at the community level, that can safeguard the girl from being victims to such crimes.

For many young children the thought of speaking to authorities is incredibly intimidating, however through these youth groups they find solace in sharing their thoughts and concerns and when an issue arises. The girls now are bold in raising these concerns with the police who have the power to investigate and intervene.

As the girls show Samantha their defence moves, their confidence is clear. They enjoy the training and it's easy to see why the program has been so popular and continues to grow.

"Initially when we were learning the techniques we used to walk around in a group so if one person couldn't defend themselves we would be able to as a group, but now we are so confident that we are able to walk by ourselves also," says Kiran.

The group now take the self-defence learning to girls whose parents are still not comfortable allowing them out of the houses. Whenever the girls find time to teach the basics, even over lunch at school, they seize the opportunity and empower others who would benefit from their training.

Both Mohini and Kiran are quick to clarify that the self-defence in just one component of this children's group learning. They are determined to grow together through education, both practical and theoretical.

"The children's group is a productive way to engage children, as they get inspired by learning new things. Through such programmes we are able to educate girls. So it is not just about self-defence," said Mohini.

It's clear these girls are a force to be reckoned with and the boys of the town know it. As Kiran smiles whilst reflecting on how much their lives have changed, it is clear this group is so much more than just some girls trying basic kicking and boxing techniques.

"They call us the fighter girls now," smiles Kiran.

Whenever they see us they say let's not agitate these girls, let's go through the side and not confront them. These girls are bold, they are fighters.

This extraordinary visit to Delhi was yet another reminder of the complex barriers to education. For these girls and their families the issue of personal protection is always front of mind. However, through this program they've built resilience and confidence. They are determined to empower others within their community with what they've learnt.

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