Don’t mess with me: UK peacekeepers teach South Sudanese girls self-defence skills
“Let’s say that I go into the forest to collect firewood and boys start touching me. I will know how to protect myself and get away from them safely,” says Therezone Steven, a Primary Seven pupil at Bentiu Primary School.
Therezone is one of about 80 girls who have been learning how to block, punch, and escape a wrist hold, among a host of other responsive actions that can free one from random aggressors – all thanks to the UK peacekeepers deployed in the area to undertake engineering works.
Every day, women and girls in South Sudan face the risk of physical assault, be it in the streets or public spaces – exacerbated by years of armed conflict.
“Violence can happen anywhere, and it can affect young girls,” says Liutenant Elizabeth Walton, one of the UK peacekeepers who have been teaching self-defence techniques to the 80 girls every weekend, since 31 August 2019. “These girls need to know how to protect themselves,” she concludes.
Therezone, who is one of the girls from Bentiu’s Rubkona area and the UN protection of civilians site, says she is enthralled to learn this protective technique which, she now believes, will help her in the future.
Asked what she would do if someone attacked her on her way home, Therezone is methodical.
“It depends,” she says. “If he comes with boxing, then I will have to cover my face as a blocking technique,” she notes. “If he puts me down on the ground, then I’ll use ground techniques: turn my back to him, and then push up and flip him over and run while calling for help,” she concludes.
“Boys will no longer take advantage of us,” confidently declares Marie Changdar from Rubkona trainees’ group.
Armed with their new skills, Therezone and Marie are now going altruistic. They think that sharing these skills with other community members is important, as they would be helping them to mitigate the risk of sexual assault and domestic violence.
“This is important for us. We decided to share these skills with other girls because anything can happen to my friends,” says Marie.
Major John George, the UK engineering contingent commander believes this training is targeting two birds with one stone.
“We are trying to do two things. First, to offer them some training which will give them some confidence to fight back before things become worse,” he says.
“Also, secondly, we are trying to share with them some practical techniques in the event they are, sadly, the victims of sexual assault – so they can break free from bad guys and raise an alarm for help,” he concludes.
These self-defence classes also incorporate lessons on gender-based-violence – delivered by United Nations Police – and building team spirit so that girls can help one another, and report all violence by raising an alarm.