Today on International Youth Day, we are celebrating Boxgirls Kenya, an organization that is building young girls’ leadership while challenging gender stereotypes through sport in poor and marginalized communities in Kenya.
A few weeks ago, on a particularly cloudy day in the outskirts of Nairobi, two fearless young women stood face-to-face in the centre of an outdoor boxing ring. These women were there to demonstrate to a captivated audience the often untapped potential of girls in sport.
Parents, teachers, and even local politicians gathered around the ring to watch the match. Young girls – participants of Boxgirls Kenya’s innovative sports and education program – sat in awe on the sidelines, intently watching for ways they could improve their own boxing skills.
An impressive match of jabs and uppercuts, with every punch, the two boxers were taking aim at breaking down harmful stereotypes in the community that all too often prevent young girls and women from participating in events like these.
This community outreach tournament in Kariobangi, Kenya was hosted by The MATCH Fund grantee, Boxgirls Kenya and was called “Girls winning in sports and in life.” The tournament provided the young girls and women who train with Boxgirls an opportunity to meet with national and international champions in boxing, hockey, soccer and volleyball. The tournament also provided the broader community with a chance to see how women from communities like theirs are excelling in both sports and life.
“The girls were inspired and their desire to be strong, confident and to focus on their dreams was all over their faces throughout the event,” Director of Boxgirls, Cynthia Coredo, told us. “The girls were also able to inform the community members how positive their involvement is in ensuring safe spaces are provided for girls to play and win in life.”
In Kenya, women’s rights activists and organizations, like Boxgirls Kenya, have been making significant strides in the fight for gender equality. But in some areas, progress remains slow. Kenya still has one of the highest Early Forced Marriage (EFM) rates in the world, at 26%. Especially prevalent among girls who are living in poverty, EFM can increase their risk for domestic violence, lead to life-threatening health issues due to early pregnancies, and limit their potential for educational attainment, further marginalizing this already vulnerable population.
Boxgirls is working to change this reality by engaging young girls and women, from some of the most disadvantaged communities in Nairobi, through sport. Through boxing, they are building the confidence and leadership potential of these young women. They also provide girls in the community with educational programs to teach them about their human rights and their sexual and reproductive health. Taking their programs onto the streets through tournaments and public marches, Boxgirls also works to shift perceptions about gender stereotypes that discriminate against women and lead to harmful practices such as EFM.
And while there is still a great amount of work to do, every time one more girl steps into the boxing ring with the support of Boxgirls Kenya, we are collectively taking another small step forward toward achieving gender equality in Kenya.