Women Train Under Former Boxing Champion to Protect, Provide for Families

Ley Uwera, GPJ DRCFor the women who train under a former boxing champion in Goma, boxing is more than just a sport. The women fight to prove themselves, earn a living and protect their families.

(photo-Assitou Mudiay, 20, says boxing makes her feel strong amid the chaos of daily life in Goma, the capital of DRC’s North Kivu province.)

GOMA, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO — At 6 a.m. on the dot the women show up in battle gear.

T-shirts. Lace up shoes. Boxing gloves.

Assitou Mudiay, 20, Aisha Heri, 28, Leila Bosombi, 26 and Safi Moke, 25, stretch and jog, warming up before their practice session. All four women say they step into the ring to test their mettle and swing for a better life.

All four women have rested their fate in the hands of Balezi Bagunda, their coach and former boxing champion, whom they call Kibomango, his boxing name.

Bagunda says he enjoys working with female boxers.

“Many people buy into the belief that girls can’t make an iota of progress in boxing,” Bagunda says. “And yet, girls are physically tough enough, and boxing will help them defend themselves should the need arise.”

As an antidote to sexual violence and endemic poverty, these women take to the ring to prove their strength and strive to make money on the boxing circuit. All four women sat down with Global Press Journal to share their motivation for taking up boxing.

Assitou Mudiay

(photo) Assitou Mudiay goes to boxing practice every morning at 6 a.m. After practice she returns home to study DVDs of her past fights.Ley Uwera, GPJ DRC

Mudiay says life got harder when she married at the age of 17. Just three years later, the 20 year old is a single parent of two children. Poverty forced her to move back in with her parents, she says.

“Goma is a daily battle,” she says. “Boxing helps me to be strong enough to wrestle with the problems of everyday life.”

After her early morning practice session ends, she heads home to begin the second phase of her daily training routine: studying her past fights.

She pulls out a stack of DVDs that feature every fight of her boxing career. She has won just five of several dozen matches since she began competing in 2013, but she says she is determined to prove herself and make it to the next level, where she hopes to be able to make more significant earnings.

For winning a fight she earns $50 to $100, depending on the sponsors. If she loses, she earns nothing, but is sometimes sent home with fees to cover transportation, she says.

“I continue working hard every day,” she says. “Boxing is my life. It’s all I have.”

Aisha Heri

Aisha Heri is not yet a professional boxer, but she is training to become one. Ley Uwera, GPJ DRC

At 28, Heri is the oldest of the women Bagunda is training. She says she took up boxing to defend herself on the streets of Birere, the high-density neighborhood of Goma known for its poverty. She’s not yet a professional fighter, but says she believes she can become one, one day.

“Not a single day goes by without reports of gangsters attacking locals,” she says, adding that women fall victims to violence more often than men.

“Today, I feel strong both physically and mentally, because I know I can defend myself if I get caught in a dangerous situation,” she says.

by Ley Uwera - a reporter with Global Press in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She graduated with a journalism degree from CEPROMAD University. She became an independent journalist in 2009, and has worked for various humanitarian NGOs in Eastern Congo. Since then, Ley has collaborated with international press such as Global Press, This Is Africa, and BBC as a freelancer reporter.