Ugandan women turn to boxing to escape the slum

Hellen Baleke is the most experienced of the four with 11 wins, four draws and one loss. She practises her punches on an old car tyre, as they cannot afford punchbags (Edward Echwalu, Al Jazeera)

Hellen Baleke is the most experienced of the four with 11 wins, four draws and one loss. She practises her punches on an old car tyre, as they cannot afford punchbags (Edward Echwalu, Al Jazeera)

They live impoverished lives in one of the largest slums in Uganda’s capital city of Kampala. Without permanent shelter or jobs, Morine Nakilyowa (23), Lydia Nantale (17), Hellen Baleke (24) and Diana Tulyanabo (20) have started boxing as a way to survive the harsh living conditions in the crime-ridden Katanga slum.

The women have featured prominently in local tournaments in the past few years, representing the Katanga-based Rhino Boxing Club. But they have yet to receive the recognition afforded their male counterparts.

The closest these female boxers have come to career-defining moments was a potential debut at the International Boxing Association’s World Amateur Boxing Championships in China in 2012. The Ugandan government let them down through a lack of funding.


Hellen Baleke in a training session. The women cannot afford to hire a permanent coach so they are trained by part-time male boxers who take a commission from professional fights. (Edward Echwalu, Al Jazeera)

Since then, the boxers have had to contend with the absence of a functioning amateur boxing body and a limited number of credible opponents as they struggle to make their mark. 

To keep active, they seek out boxers from across the border – in Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania – and feature on the undercards of locally arranged professional fights. In extreme circumstances they take each other on at catchweights, in which the normal weight categories are put aside. 

Despite the setbacks, the four boxers still harbour big dreams of representing Uganda at major international tournaments. – Al Jazeera

 

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