Girls and women are more aware than ever of the need to protect themselves against abusive men. Team Y talks to a martial arts coach who is helping them to fight back – should the need arise.
Taking a swing at the punching bag is a 13-year-old girl who knows what it means to fight.
But in Rumaitha*’s case, it has been a battle for respect and survival that has brought her to the gym.
As a victim of child abuse, she has no intention of letting her past drag her down, and her determination is as clear as her impressive left hook.
Showing respect to others and receiving it is a right to which all of us are entitled.
Yet, for girls like Rumaitha, it’s one that can be taken away at any given moment.
Today, she shows us that for those under threat, there’s always one last resort: self-defence.
She’s of several girls taking classes to defend themselves from potential attackers. It’s a concept being extended into the UFC Gym Oman’s women’s self-defence classes.
Rumaitha explains: “Only you can protect yourself when things start to go wrong.”
The classes were founded in Oman earlier this year by Risto Dimitrov – an expat mixed-martial arts coach and ex-military servant – in association with UFC Gym Oman.
The aim of the partnership is to empower women to stand up for themselves, and help end violence towards women.
It is believed to be the first programme of its kind in Oman.
Risto says: “It’s not violence that we’re propagating here but peace and safety.
“And to attain that, we are taking steps to teach various tactics to the women so that they can protect themselves should the time come.
“Oman is one of the safest places for women to live,” says Risto. “But it’s always good to know that you’re prepared to protect yourself if you need to.”
Self-defense for women is a novel concept in Oman. More than 90 cases of abuse and assaults were recorded against women in the country in 2017.
Surprisingly, this number increases to 160,000 when extended to female migrant workers, as has been confirmed by a report issued by the Human Rights Watch covering the same period.
As a victim, Rumaitha believes every woman can and should defend herself.
She says: “What I went through was truly traumatising but it’s time to break the cycle and show the world that every human being must be treated equally and with respect.”
In light of this, steps are being taken by women and girls to protect themselves – and the UFC Gym is offering free classes to victims with the help of the Ministry of Social Development.
Others looking to join will be asked for a minimal fee that can be paid at the time of registration, and age isn’t a factor. Women of all age groups are encouraged to join.
The self-defence classes that take place at the UFC Gym in Oman in Seeb currently have about 10 girls.
However, the numbers are far higher when the team heads to the Sultan’s School in Oman to teach girls on how they can “counter an attack and neutralise the criminal”.
There are three extensive self-defence courses that are offered in training based on the age and intensity of the training, and the entire course takes two months to complete.
It teaches girls on how they can counter an attack, lock wrists and arms or even ground a stronger person by locking them down.
The training is conducted by Risto himself with the assistance of Stella MacDonald, a long-time martial arts self-defence expert.
Aside from the general classes, the team also holds classes and interactive sessions that allow the girls and women to share their experiences.
During these, they can share their thoughts on the topic of violence against women and also break the taboo and give a safe space for women to voice their stories.
Risto says that one woman – a former student of his – approached him and told him how the training had come in handy when she was in a European country.
“Most of the women here who attend training are confident that Oman is a safe place, but they believe they can employ their skills if they feel threatened in other countries. It’s a precautionary measure but one that could save their lives,” he says.
The classes take place every Saturday at 5pm but the UFC Gym will also provide flexible solutions to those interested in taking part in the course.
Those interested can register at the UFC Gym Oman in Seeb. For more details, visit ‘UFC Gym Oman’ on Facebook.
Note: All photos have been provided by UFC Gym Oman. Due to confidentiality and protection of identities, no images of assault survivors interviewed for this feature have been published here.