A South West-based charity working to empower survivors of violence through martial arts has secured a boost to its potential future growth via a $4,400 grant from mining giant Rio Tinto.

Pink Belt Project Inc, founded by Australind Black Belt mum Kristy Hitchens and lead by a Board of Management from across Australia will undergo a strategic branding process thanks to Rio’s Community Giving Program.

Formed in 2018 the Pink Belt Project is an Australian Registered Charity and Incorporated Association in WA with beneficiaries in every state and territory.

More than 100 Pink Belt Scholarships have been provided across Australia throughout the life of the project via a combination of public donations and support from martial arts instructors who sponsor a scholarship at their club.

The project is guided by international research findings, Pink Belt’s own 2021 national study of 400 female martial artists and widespread anecdotal evidence demonstrating the empowering and transformative effect of martial arts training for women, creating a powerful but under-recognised tool for violence prevention and recovery.

Rio Tinto funding will support the development of a clear brand for the group as it looks to grow the organisation and support and empower more women in the future.

Mrs Hitchens said: “The kind of cultural change that can positively influence gender inequality – a key driver of violence against women – requires decisive action in all areas of life from workplaces to sporting clubs to schools and houses of parliament. We’re thrilled that Rio Tinto has recognised the community benefits being delivered by Pink Belt Project. This funding will go a long way towards ensuring our long-term sustainability.”

Previous West Australian recipients of Pink Belt Scholarships report the following outcomes of their scholarship:

PERTH: “I got my Pink Belt today! I can not thank you enough. My scholarship ends in Feb, 2022 and I’ll be carrying it on for myself, my daughter and my son will be starting (next year too). The smile on my daughter’s face every time she leaves practise is amazing! She graded today…She was so proud and excited and so am I. You’ve started something in me … for our little family that will just keep going for us well into the future… I look forward to starting practise again in the new year! Not only has it given me self -defence skills should I need them, it’s also been a wonderful community to join. So many people from so many walks of life in the one room each week, yet no matter who they are or who I am they’ve been accepting, non-judgmental, supportive and respectful. It’s given me something for me, and shown me there are beautiful people out there.”

BUNBURY: “I have found my voice, and feel more confident in expressing my boundaries as a result of the work I am doing to regain my power… I found the strength to stand up for my rights at work … I am also actively looking to buy my first home, which is very exciting! Looking forward to the day I can pay forward the generous support I have been blessed to receive when it’s my time to do so.”

PERTH: “I simply cannot describe the value this scholarship has provided me with, it has truly paved the way for me to begin a new phase of my life. One where I am always trying to be the best version of myself – supported by an Instructor and Club comrades who have picked up the pieces of what was a shattered person and assisted me in rebuilding myself into someone I am learning to love and be proud of.”