Growing up in Jordan, Lina Khalifeh was no stranger to violence against women in her society and her family. It had always upset her that there were no laws to protect women and that these women could not stand up for themselves. This all culminated in a moment during her time at university when one of her friends arrived on campus with severe bruises on her face, having been abused by her father and her brother. Lina was rightfully angry and wanted to do something about it. She had already built a background in martial arts, and she decided to pass on her knowledge and training to other women to teach them how to stand up for themselves and become confident and empowered. She wanted to create a platform where women could enhance their skills and stand up to injustice.
This was no easy task, but Lina was determined to make it happen. Lina started SheFighter in her parent’s basement in 2010 and opened her first SheFighter studio in Jordan in 2012. SheFighter Studio is the first all-women’s self-defense studio and it is designed to empower women both mentally and physiologically by teaching them self-defense techniques so that they can feel more confident, secure, and strong to defend themselves if they are placed in violent situations. SheFighter has helped over 25,000 women worldwide through its seminars, courses, and trainer training, and has certified over 700 trainers in 35 countries, including Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Germany, South Korea, Portugal, and the United States of America. Post-COVID, they now certify trainers online to ease the process and have further reached.
Lina has over seventeen years of experience in martial arts, particularly Taekwondo, Kick-Boxing, Kung Fu, and Boxing. She has been awarded the ESPN Humanitarian Award presented by UFC and ESPN in 2019, the Economic Empowerment Award by Hillary Clinton in 2018, and the Female Entrepreneur of the Year by The Women Economic Forum in Dubai in 2016, and was recognized by former United States’ President Barack Obama during his speech in 2015 at the White House.
Lina faced many challenges to make SheFighter what it is today. At first, people laughed at her and said she was a dreamer, telling her she would never be able to make her dream come true; however, Lina believes that she had to step up and take the initiative. After SheFighter took off, Lina had to navigate several lawsuits that were thrown at her for teaching women how to defend themselves, especially in domestic violence cases. “There was one woman I was training for a few years who had a problem with her husband and she defended herself against him, so he sued us for teaching her how to.”
She says it was very draining to have to deal with all of that, “men are extremely threatened by powerful women. They are intimidated by strong women. In our society, men are raised to believe that just because they were born a man they are more privileged than women. That is not true. If you want to see if a man is good, look at how he treats his wife or his daughters, don’t look at the man himself.”
Lina believes that, when faced with obstacles, a person needs to figure out how to push through. “If someone throws a rock in your path, what are you going to do? You have to get the rock out of your path. If it is heavy, climb over it. If it is large, go around it. You have to find a way to move on. That is how I look at challenges.” She says that the journey to success is not linear, a person does not just rise. It is more of a rise and a fall, then getting back up and rising, only to fall again, repeat.
Lina advises young women and girls to not just work hard but to do something they are passionate about. She especially encourages women to build something for themselves that is sustainable and long-term and to become business owners if that is feasible. She is a big supporter of entrepreneurship because it benefits the founder and also creates jobs for other people. She cites trust as the number one driving force to success, be it trust in God, trust in others, trust in life, or trust in oneself. Lina also believes that to succeed, it is important to put yourself out there and join conferences, speak at schools, and go to events so that people can know who you are.
She recommends that the government partner up with and supports local entities, especially young, local, women-led businesses. She calls for government grants for women in business wherever possible, just like some other countries worldwide provide. She also believes that governments should loosen up policies regarding businesses made by women so that more women will be encouraged to start businesses no matter how small. This is especially pertinent to businesses built from homes.
Lina also calls for schools and media to provide education and awareness not only to girls but also to boys to teach them from a young age that girls and boys have the same capabilities as each other and that neither is better than the other and thus should treat each other equally. She believes that, in this way, we can get rid of the stereotype that women are less smart or less strong than men. “Girls are just as powerful, they just need the same level of education and investment that is poured into boys in all fields, and they need to be encouraged to pursue these fields instead of being made to fear the journey. They can be just as successful; we just need to provide them with the proper tools to do it.”
This story was written by Ghada El Kawas