“First, take care of yourself and grow within yourself and then maybe later you’ll be able to help someone else”. This is the moto Lina Khalifeh lives by and teaches her students. The taekwondo champion and self-defence trainer made it her mission to empower women from her native Jordan, and now, all around the Mediterranean.
Women in the Mediterranean may face oppression in one way or another, but Lina Khalifeh’s life goal is to help them rise up and stand for themselves and for each other. “The main problem women face in the Mediterranean is the lack of opportunities. But they have this amazing spirit for entrepreneurship in common and they want to try and solve different problems.”
Her drive to develop women empowerment was born in Jordan, in her parents’ basement, where she started giving self-defence classes to her friends after one of them was victim of domestic violence. “I just wanted to solve one problem, which was domestic violence and violence against women but later on, it grew to be a global movement”. Today, her self-defence studio, “SheFighter”, has welcomed 12,000 female students since its opening in 2012.
“The studio helps women stand strong in society by building up their self-confidence and their belief system. If you empower a woman, you empower a nation. It’s important to focus on women and on their empowerment, their thoughts and their ideas.”
This passion for highlighting women’s importance in society and the energy she puts in developing her studio in Jordan made her perfect for taking part in the WoMED project, an initiative supported by the Union for the Mediterranean. The training programme is aimed to strengthen the capacities of high-potential young women from the Southern Mediterranean. “Their project aims to help women have a voice and WoMED highlights other women’s work. I highlight other women’s work too and empower them physically and psychologically.” As instilled by this project, she believes that today, across the Mediterranean, “women should start projects together, invest in each other. Women need to believe in each other and help each other to rise” concluding that “women in power should help other women”.
“We definitely need a feminist movement and gender equality just to create more opportunities for women to get better, to get a job and an income. In some Mediterranean countries, there are no equal rights and there are a lot of laws that need to be changed.” Although Khalifeh’s work doesn’t end at the Jordan border, this is where most of her work happens. She proudly helps develop women’s physical and psychological confidence to help them take their place in society and “stand up against anything they face in their lives”.
She’s proud of her life commitment to women around the globe and measures the span of her project. “Things have changed for me, it isn’t just about what I’m doing for them, it is what I’m doing for me. It has been a personal growth journey for me too. The calling chose me, and the movement chose me to be a role model. As a martial artist, I can bring a lot to women in the Mediterranean and in the Middle East because they are looking for a different type of inspiration. And I’m one of the role models that will show them that life can be ruled by them.”
Khalifeh’s list of accomplishments is long, and she’s not ready to stop yet. She received the “Economic Empowerment Leadership” award from Barack Obama in 2015, she trained Emma Watson and was honoured by Hillary Clinton in 2018. The champion is planning to expand her “SheFighter” studio and create an implantation in the US.
The self-defence studio founder has a black belt in taekwondo, a martial art she started learning when she was five since she was a victim of bullying in the streets of Jordan. Growing up and becoming a woman in the Middle East meant Khalifeh faced discrimination and needed to speak up for herself.
“I was raised and built to be a warrior. Because I was raised in a tough environment, I was built in a tough environment and I’m ready to take over the world.”
The champion then learned kickboxing, Kung Fu and boxing. “I was raised in a family where my mother supported whatever I did. She believes that all kids, whether they’re girls or boys should pursue their dreams”.
She finds life lessons in martial art for herself but also for her students. “Taekwondo it’s all about respect, discipline and commitment to achieving your dreams and goals. And life is about chapters and levels and once you finish one level you go onto the other level and so on.”