The girl boxers of Nairobi

Superheroes, Teenagers

It’s not often you see a girl throw a punch in a floor-length ball gown. But living in the poverty of Korogocho, Kenya, you wear whatever you have to boxing class.

Every week, young women from the marginalized communities of northern Nairobi are taught self-defense at BoxGirls, an organization set up in 2007 by Analo Anjere (known as Priest) after he overheard two girls say they wanted to “box like boys.”

“I started the organization due to the insecurity and violence in our neighborhoods,” explains Anjere of the kidnapping, abuse, gang rape and sexual mutilation which erupted in Kenya in 2008 after president Mwai Kibaki was accused of electoral manipulation.

In Korogocho, where most of boxers are from, at least three people are raped a week, according to a 2008 report. More than 150,000 residents crowd into this 1.5 square kilometer shantytown, whose name in Swahili translates to “shoulder to shoulder.”

“Thugs often wait hidden at night for girls to walk by,” says Laura, 15, but BoxGirls is teaching her and more than 600 others to fight them off. “In my area nobody can snatch me,” says fellow boxer Doreen, 15.

More than half of the girls surveyed in a 2013 study of the area said they used their self-defense skills to avert sexual assault within one year after training. “Girls and women were the most vulnerable,” says Anjere. “I chose boxing as my tool to challenge the gender stereotypes, since it was perceived to be a male dominated sport.”

Funded by various partners, Boxgirls also has arms in Berlin and South Africa, and also provides entrepreneurship, community building, mentoring, sexual health and reading programs. But it is not the only self-defense course available to the women of Korogocho. Sometimes targeted for rape in the belief that sex with the elderly cures aids, local grandmothers have also self-organised to teach each other Kung Fu.


Blogpost by Livia Albeck-Ripka. 
Photos by Patricia Esteve.