Uganda's female slum boxers

Meet the female boxers fighting for their future in a Kampala slum.

    The boxers warm up at their ramshackle Katanga slum training club, although they lack boxing basics like gloves, belts, boots and even water [Edward Echwalu/Al Jazeera]
    The boxers warm up at their ramshackle Katanga slum training club, although they lack boxing basics like gloves, belts, boots and even water [Edward Echwalu/Al Jazeera]

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

    Over the past few years, they have featured prominently in local tournaments, representing the Katanga-based Rhino Boxing Club. But the women have yet to get the recognition afforded to 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 - only to be let down by a lack of funding from their government. 
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    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 catch-weights.

    But, despite the setbacks, the foursome still harbours big dreams of representing Uganda at major international tournaments.


    Hellen Baleke, left, and Lydia Nantale practise their jabs [Edward Echwalu/Al Jazeera] 

    The old, worn-out boxing gloves used by the women boxers are kept for fight days. They mostly train with their bare fists [Edward Echwalu/Al Jazeera] 

    Morine Nakilyowa has won two of her five professional fights [Edward Echwalu/Al Jazeera] 

    Hellen Baleke, the most experienced of the four boxers with 11 wins, four draws and a single loss to her name, practises her punches on an old car tyre, as they cannot afford actual punch bags [Edward Echwalu/Al Jazeera] 

    Morine Nakilyowa and Hellen Baleke watch their trainers box [Edward Echwalu/Al Jazeera] 

    Hellen Baleke is taken through a training session by her trainer. Since the women are not in a position to hire a permanent coach, they are trained by part-time male boxers who take part of their commission from professional fights. The only way the women earn any money from their sweat is through the mostly locally organised bouts [Edward Echwalu/Al Jazeera] 

    Morine Nakilyowa says her four children have inspired her to pursue her boxing career. 'I am a boxer because of mainly three reasons,' she says: 'Passion, to fend for family, and protect my children from this volatile environment' [Edward Echwalu/Al Jazeera] 

    This article first appeared in the Al Jazeera Magazine.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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