OXFORDSHIRE, United Kingdom — Lina Khalifeh was born a fighter.
Growing up in Jordan, she was exposed to a society that taught her that girls belong inside, but from a young age, Khalifeh rejected those stereotypes.
“I was born in an environment where I had to fight to stand up for myself,” she said on stage at BoF VOICES. “All the other girls would accept what society gives them. I don’t accept. I ask so many questions.”
Khalifeh enrolled in taekwondo classes, compelled by the philosophy of discipline and commitment behind each student’s journey to achieving their black belt. After her Olympic dream was crushed due to a serious knee injury, she fell into a deep depression.
Soon, though, she came to realise that perhaps she had another calling in life.
“I wanted to prove that I [could] build my own destiny, but fate fights back. The more I [fought], that’s why I got injured,” she said. “It’s not because it happened by coincidence, it’s because I wanted something that was not mine.”
I wanted to prove that I [could] build my own destiny.
Khalifeh began to teach other women how to defend themselves. In 2012 she founded SheFighter, the Middle East’s first female self-defence studio, designed to empower women physically and mentally. To date, the company has trained over 18,000 women.
Before long, she gained global recognition. In 2015, former US President Barack Obama honoured her at the White House’s Emerging Global Entrepreneurship event, noting Khalifeh as “a leader of social change.” Three years later, Hillary Clinton awarded Khalifeh the Economic Empowerment Leadership prize. This year, she was invited to speak at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
But she's not finished yet. “I can’t accept hearing that phrase my entire life that [women] can’t do anything,” she said.
“Life is going to throw tests at us — it’s just how to deal with it.”
To learn more about VOICES, BoF's annual gathering for big thinkers, visit our VOICES website, where you can find all the details on our invitation-only global gathering.