Boxgirls Kenya: Fighting for gender equality

The aftermath of the 2007 presidential election in Kenya led to one of the worst political, economic, and humanitarian crises in the country’s history. 
Widespread allegations of electoral manipulation were made and resulted in a violent rampage that led to the physical and emotional abuse, torture and rape of many women and girls in the country.
One of the worst cases of the abhorrent abuse suffered was the murder of over 50 unarmed women and children, some as young as a month old, when they were locked in a church and burned alive in Kiambaa village. With many women unable to defend themselves against their abusers, it was clear that something had to change. 
That came in the form of Laureus-supported project Boxgirls that was founded in early 2008 by Alfred Analo, known locally as Priest, with the aim of creating a world where uprooted, marginalised and excluded young girls are supported to lead dignified lives in secure communities and are valued as equal members of the society.
The programme focuses on the urban slums of Nairobi and some parts of western Kenya, using boxing as the main tool to positively impact the lives of vulnerable girls and young women.
Boxgirls Task Force Officer Karen Auma explained: “A lot of girls and women from the communities where we work were the ones most on the receiving end of the violence after the Presidential election.
“As a result of that situation, Priest [Alfred Analo], originally a male-only boxing coach, felt like the girls and young women should be able to protect themselves from such violence and he started training them in self-defence. 
“Later in 2008, Boxgirls was registered as an organisation to formally advocate for women’s rights and challenge stereotypes in vulnerable communities, with the aim of targeting girls aged between 8-23-years-old.
“When we first started the programme, we didn’t always have the approval from parents because they had the idea that boxing was for men and didn’t see the reason why girls should participate in the programme. 
“Educating parents was important so they could understand the benefits of the programme, particularly because the societies where we work are less privileged and with lots of families struggling to afford basic commodities like food and water, children are often sent out to earn an income which denies them the opportunity to be children.”
Boxgirls has impacted the lives of over 3,000 girls and worked with 34 schools from different communities since its inception, with over 600 parents directly engaged in the programme’s activities, and most of the programmes designed by the girls and young women themselves. 
Boxgirls Kenya is run and managed by young women
At the beginning of 2020, the programme set the ambitious target of working with one thousand girls over the course of the year, but COVID-19 struck and meant Boxgirls had to review the number of girls that they would be able to visit and bring together to learn.
Based in Kariobangi, one of Nairobi's most dangerous neighbourhoods, many of the girls that the programme works with are unable to access the internet and the pandemic led to an uncertain time in the country.
Ms Auma continued: “We had to close our office for a month when the situation was at its worst and it was a very confusing experience for everyone involved.
“Once we were able to return, we had to restructure our activities to ensure we could reach the girls in a safe manner and to find a new way of supporting them.
“We had to shift some of the money that we had planned for other activities to put into the production of face masks, education about the virus, and to ensure that necessary levels of sanitation were in place.”
The incredible work that Boxgirls has been involved with since 2008 has led to the project being shortlisted as one of three Sport for Development programmes in contention for the Laureus Sport for Good Award at the 2021 Laureus World Sports Awards. 
The complete list of Nominees for the 2021 Laureus World Sports Awards
For the first time ever, three programmes have been shortlisted alongside the Nominees for the Laureus Awards, celebrating the outstanding contribution made by grassroots sports organisations throughout the pandemic.
Ms Auma commented: “This really is a big win for us, a big win for the girls, and a big win for everybody working towards developing the lives of others in the community. We feel like our efforts have been recognised and that people appreciate what we do.
“This will help the visibility of the project to grow. We are getting recognised by a lot more people and have even received phone calls from media houses to go and talk about the project. We are so happy and very grateful to have been nominated.”
Laureus World Sports Academy Member Lennox Lewis was the Undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World and an Olympic Champion during his decorated boxing career and he knows what Sport for Good is all about having visited community sports projects in London and Mexico City. 
“Through my support for Laureus, I have witnessed what a huge impact sport can have on communities around the world.
“I was very impressed by the young people I met. It just goes to show that when they are given guidance and support, they can turn their lives around and become positive role models for society.
“I am testament to that, as sport enabled me to turn my life around.”
Lewis was inducted into the Laureus World Sports Academy by fellow Academy Member Carles Puyol during a visit to the TRASO project in Mexico
The support of Laureus has been crucial in enabling Boxgirls to meet its ambitious targets relating to the number of girls that they want to impact, how many scholarships they can offer, and the number of girls to train and become boxing coaches, referees, or judges.
Laureus has also helped the programme build capacity so that the programme leaders are able to obtain, improve, and retain the correct skills, knowledge, tools, and equipment to provide the girls with the best opportunities in life.
As a result, many participants  go on to careers directly influenced by their learnings, whether that is in boxing, coaching in the programme, or other skills that they learn.
One beneficiary who encapsulates what Boxgirls is all about is Lencer Akinyi, a coach and amateur boxer who thrived thanks to the support of the organisation.
Lencer Akinyi competing in the ring
She commented: “Through the programme I have gained confidence. It is high and improving every day. When I compare the Lencer I was five years ago, it is very different from who I am today.
“I can express myself well without any fear. I have also gained self-defence skills through boxing and I now know how to defend myself in the event of an attack.”
Victoria Akinyi, 23, offers another example of how the project can support a variety of different needs, showing the importance of other skills being learned alongside the boxing education provided.
Victoria Akinyi showcasing her sewing skills
Ms Akinyi said: “I am now confident that I can make good bags and sell them. This will sustain me economically when I graduate from the programme. I have also gained courage to approach and talk to people and this will help me work well with the future team and with clients too.
“I would like to urge other girls not to take opportunity for granted, even if is not what they wished because it could be what they needed to change their lives.”
Despite the challenges associated with the pandemic, the future looks bright for Boxgirls with plans to build their own centre in the future.
Currently, office space is limited and the organisation spends a chunk of its budget on hiring halls and transport. Their main training base is the social hall which is sometimes required by the community, meaning they are unable to train on certain days.
They are hoping to build a centre with their own gym and training space which will provide more flexibility and reduce overhead costs in the long-term.
Whatever the future holds, this remarkable programme will be keeping their eyes peeled on the announcement of the winner of the Laureus Sport for Good Award in May.
The Kenyan programme is in the running alongside Fundación Colombianitos, a Colombian organisation using football and rugby to promote education and bridge gender gaps; and KICKFORMORE, a football organisation that encourages participants to make positive contributions in their communities in Germany.

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