On Empowerment Self-Defense, Technology, and a Violence-Free World

Yehudit (Yudit) Sidikman, Founder and President of ESD Global Inc.  

“Being able to defend myself is not violence.  It is a human right…it is my right”, says Yehudit (Yudit) Sidikman, Founder and President of ESD Global Inc.  

Meet the woman who wants to  ensure that one day everyone will know the abbreviation ESD, the way that IBM and CPR are known worldwide. While very few people under the age of 40 can tell you the actual words for CPR, they know what it means. It means saving lives.  ESD stands for Empowerment Self-Defense, both a unique concept and a global movement, incidentally one that is also about saving lives.

In addition to recognition by the Israeli Ministry of Social Equality, Yehudit Zicklin-Sidikman has been recognized with the Wizo Jerusalem Woman of the Year award and was counted amongst the Top 50 Influential Women in Israel by Nashim (Women) Magazine.

After falling in love with Prague, Yehudit chose it to be the venue for the VPEC (Violence Prevention Education Conference), which will take place in October 2021. Even though the pandemic has caused the cancellation or postponement of many events, VPEC 2021 will be held in person and be available virtually.

Terror at Home and the Shadow Pandemic

The pandemic has taken a great toll, not only in regards to deaths linked to Covid-19.  An alarming increase in the number of domestic violence incidents has been reported by non-governmental agencies around the world.  This phenomenon is being called “the shadow pandemic”, and experts claim that it should receive as much attention as COVID-19.  It is important to bear in mind that although domestic violence statistics were horrendous even  before the lockdowns, assaults on women have increased by a staggering 500%!  In contrast to widespread belief, the greatest dangers come not from sexual predators in deserted parks or on poorly lit streets, but from those who are known to their targets.  

According to Gentiana Susaj, a gender expert and the regional program manager for ESD Global Europe, “Worldwide, one in three women and one in five children are victims of violence. Violence is thus by far one of the most prevalent health issues today”. To Czech women, Serbian, Albanian, British and Belgian women can serve as inspiration because they united recently after terrible events shook their countries. In Serbia, a drama academy director was detained over rape claims; in Albania, a woman who was six months pregnant was brutally murdered by her husband; in England, a woman named Sarah Payne was abducted and murdered; and in Belgium, there have been cases of rape in public spaces. 

All of these acts of violence have brought to light the need to bring ESD to these countries to further strengthen the empowerment of women. “At ESD Global, we are coordinating and gathering forces with activists and institutions in these four countries and beyond, in order to respond to the request of civil society organizations for ESD instructor trainings. ESD training provides practical tools to prevent or respond to unwanted situations, from stalking to rape, from verbal harassment to life-threatening situations”. Gentiana Susaj proudly adds that even during the pandemic, ESD trainings have been delivered successfully online and in-person, with the use of necessary precautions and specific protocols.

“Research further confirms that adverse childhood experiences, including gender-based violence and sexual assault, have profoundly detrimental effects on the people who experienced them”, adds Yudit Sidikman.  

Looking for a way to decrease female poverty?  Look no further than violence prevention.  Women who do not experience violence at home earn more money.  Worldwide.  Are you worried about climate change?  Engaging and empowering women is also often mentioned as one of the solutions.  

Graphic by: Marcela Janíčková

Empowerment Self-Defense

A fight not had is a fight won”. However, if you must defend yourself and fight, you should have the appropriate tools to do so.  ESD is an evidence-based primary violence prevention strategy that teaches individuals how to interrupt violence by listening to their intuition, assessing their options, asserting boundaries, using de-escalation strategies, and providing tools for a range of mental, verbal, and physical responses.  ESD is the most well-researched and most effective violence prevention intervention that exists today.  

Prevention is the key word. 

The many NGOs that work and help victims of violence deserve endless appreciation for their work.  However, would you imagine that we would apply the same approach to the COVID-19 pandemic?  Would we dare to only treat patients, without taking any precautionary measures in the forms of social distancing, contact reporting, triage, and most importantly, vaccination?

Unfortunately, this is the approach that is widely used when it comes to violence.  First, we do not want to talk about it. As with many difficult issues, the widespread notion is that when you do not talk about it, it does not exist.  I find it not only paradoxical but outrageous that one of the common “ pearls of wisdom” widely spread is the claim that it is safer to yell “fire” than “help” in case you need help from strangers on the street.  Have we reached another low as a society? 

The second issue is linked to prevention.  Parallel to diplomacy or healthcare, any conflict or disease that does not occur, is not included in the statistics.  That is why we tend to spend little money or energy on prevention.  However, “Enough is enough” one ESD spot claims.      

Yehudit is committed to making Empowerment Self-Defense training accessible worldwide.  Currently, there are more than 163 ESD Global graduates in more than 40 countries.  And at the end of 2021, I plan to launch an ESD program in the Czech Republic. 

What can ESD Bring to you?

My question is for those who have experienced neither martial arts nor self-defense classes.  Do you know how to defend yourself? Would you know how to prevent a potential threat in reality? Would you know how to use your voice?  And, if necessary, would you know how to fight?  I became interested in ESD after I met Yehudit.   The other inspiration was my 16-year old daughter. When she started to prepare for a high-school year of living abroad, I had a feeling I missed something important in her upbringing: to develop her ability to be able to defend herself if needed.  The truth is that unless you have a younger or older brother, women usually do not know how to fight efficiently.  What I appreciate is that ESD teaches violence prevention tools, so that each individual can decide what is the best tool based on their specific circumstance at the moment.   I thought that relying on kicking a man’s weakest spot would do the trick.  But that is not the only way.  You can aim for a lower  limb, such as a shin, or  aim higher at the throat,  ear or  eye.  Would you truly be able to actually slap someone?  There are  theories around women’s physical response to violence that lead people to believe that a slap or punch with your fist is easy.  But would it be the most effective thing to do in a particular situation?  There are other ways to stay safe. Also, it might be much more useful if you use the hard part of your lower palm instead.  Learn the rules for how to use the hard parts of your body towards the weak or sensitive parts of the body of the opponent.

Did you know that taking an ESD class can lower your risk of sexual assault by 46%?  Even more astonishing, it can lower the risk of attempted sexual assault by 63% – meaning people can stop an assault even before they realize it is turning into an assault. In addition, an ESD class can help to reduce fear and anxiety and increase self-esteem, assertiveness and confidence.

I have found many ways to connect ESD to women leadership.  The five principles of ESD – “THINK,” “YELL,” “RUN” “FIGHT” and “TELL,” have many more implications when connected to the business and entrepreneurial environment.  How many women were forced to leave the workplace during the pandemic?  How many of them were forced to say yes to contracts that are far from win-win?  How many times did they have to stand and defend themselves?  Women are known for fighting like a lioness for others, but rarely for themselves.  And do not be afraid if martial arts classes are not exactly your cup of tea.  The advantage of the ESD concept is that it can also be taught to children and other vulnerable segments of the population, such as minorities, the elderly, or people with disabilities.  It is really about learning to use your body and your voice to defend yourself in the more prevalent types of gender-based or sexual violence. 

Technology as a Solution

Last November 25, on the symbolic date when we commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, with Yehudit as my guest-speaker, I established the Czech-Israeli Women Accelerator at the CEVRO Institute in Prague.  I believe that women should be encouraged more to use technology to address their specific challenges.  

For a long time, we have used technology to predict and prevent undesirable human behavior, such as studying algorithms to spot the phenomenon of “lonely wolf terrorists”. Likewise, algorithms for fighting extremism and antisemitism on social media are already being used.  Now comes the time to use technology for the benefit of women and their security.  

In Israel, there is an app available which can predict whether you are subject to domestic violence by monitoring the use of mobile phones; there is also app that based on audio signal processing empowers the community to take next steps.  El HaLev organization is preparing an app to continue with ESD training during the time of a pandemic.  We need to make more use of technology for reporting, counselling, and collecting the resources of gender-based violence.      

The 1st Czech-Israeli Virtual Hackathon on the Theme of Women and Security will take place from May 21 to May 23 2021.  I partnered with Czech NGO Konsent to tackle the issue of Respect at Universitites. 

Johanna Nejedlová says: Women’s safety has been the main topic since the organization was founded in 2016.  We work on preventing sexual abuse and harassment in many ways – we carry out workshops for students, teachers, parents, clubs and pubs, companies, public and society in general, we founded a self-help group for victims of sexual abuse, and we create both campaigns to educate the public and peer-to-peer groups that work amazingly. We appreciate the opportunity to join Israel in this effective and meaningful way to get together, learn from each other and come up with some great ideas and solutions to our common problem – the safety of women. Every woman deserves to feel and be safe, respected, and free to live a life that’s full and happy. We hope that mutual cooperation will get us one step closer to make this declaration come to life.

The Israeli side will work on the issue linked to third-party responsibility.  I am proud that top Israeli universities and organizations, such as Azrieli College of Engineering, Hadassah Academic College of Jerusalem, AtoBe Accelerator, and El Halev, are partners.  

Tiferet Solomon from HAC adds:  “I believe it is our responsibility as a society to act together to create a safe environment, in any and all situations. As someone who has been fighting for over four years to change the injustices regarding rape drug victims, I know there is much  lacking in those systems which are supposed to protect us. I also know that with patience, persistence, and devotion to the cause they can be changed for the better. I hope that through this Hackathon more social initiatives will be developed making the world a safer place for us and future generations.”

Odelia Toledano from AtoB Start Up Accelerator pointed out that: “It is our duty to act today for a better tomorrow, for us and future generations.  Every woman should be able to live and feel safe in any place and situation, without fear or discrimination. We must recognize that this is not only a woman’s issue, but an issue that concerns us all. I sincerely believe that through innovative initiatives we can advance the important causes to make our world a better place for all of us.”

VPEC Conference Coming to Prague in October

It is my honor to act as a liaison for the upcoming Violence Prevention Education Conference in Prague.  The conference will take place on October 9 and 10.  Save the date! Before the training, there will be a weeklong training for aspiring ESD instructors.  Two trainings will be provided:  Women’s Level 1 Training and a Co-Ed Level 1 Training (ESD for schools). 

Here is a testimonial from Bianka Urbanovská from Slovakia, who participated at the ESD Training in Jerusalem in 2020:

“When I was leaving for the ESD instructors training, my expectations were to become someone who empowers people to use a variety of safety tools. Not only were these expectations met – they were exceeded.  There was much more than encouraging women to yell NO that I learned.  It is the acknowledgment of self-worth, power, feeling of safety, and peace that I wish for all women and children. ESD training translates these wishes into reality through its instructors, and I had the privilege to become one of them”.

We also look forward to discussing interesting topics and having open exchanges of expertise and opinions at roundtables.  Allow me to give a sneak preview of some of the possible topics, besides preventing gender-based violence in Covid-19 times, online violence and gender-based hate speech in social media, primary prevention among teens and girls at risk, cyberbullying or intersectional violence concerning people on the move, LGBTQIA+ community or other marginalized groups. We expect to have speakers and experts from all over the world. 

Last year, I served as a member of ESD Global’s Pitch Competition. All of the submissions were truly inspiring and highlighted various strategies for preventing violence of all types. The three winners were chosen to speak at VPEC.  You can look forward to inspiring stories from Africa and South America.  And no, it will not be only about women.  One of the most inspiring stories comes from Dan Matakayia, a survivor of an acid attack from his wife that left him blind.  Dan started a movement to help male victims of violence in Kenya.  

Become Involved and Join our Efforts to Prevent Violence

Contact us for more information about participation and partnership. Become part of the ESD movement. Join the 1st Czech-Israeli Hackathon.  Or decide to take another action.  The time is now!