Through the walls of Kariobangi Community Center you can hear the box coaches’ orders all the way to the nearby football field. Curious bypassers are peeking in through the windows and in the corner of the gym articles about title matches have been posted on the wall. Kariobangi is one of Nairobi’s toughest neighborhoods and home to some of Kenyas most recognized boxers. It is also one of few boxing gyms in Kenya where women take part in the training sessions.
Box Girls Kenya was founded after the post-election violence that struck Kenya in 2008. ”I saw how women were treated especially bad after the election and I felt that I wanted to give women and girls an opportunity to defend themselves”, says the founder Alfred Analo.
Initially it was difficult to engage the women. Boxing has traditionally been considered an activity for men only, but that view is about to change. Nine years ago there were twelve girls and women participating in the work outs. Today there are more than 1500 female members involved in the organization. ”When we first started out, a lot of parents didn’t want their daughters to box. Nowadays it’s the other way around, parents contact us and ask us to come visit their daughters’ schools”, says Analo. Apart from teaching boxing, the organization also educates schoolgirls in life-skills and women ́s rights.
Damaris Irungu has been boxing for two years and she spends every morning in the gym, boxing and sparring against professional male boxers. In the afternoons she does outreaches to different schools around Nairobi where she teaches boxing to girls. ”I have become much more brave since I started boxing. I can really stand up for myself now”, says Damaris who’s dream it is to one day represent Kenya in the Olympic Games.