By Andrew Doughman
Spartanburg Herald-Journal Reporter
She contends that women are good for more than “baby manufacturing.”
For the globalbike trip participants from the United States, we'd like to hope that this is self-evident. But for the five women and girls riding along with globalbike in Tanzania, it's a daily struggle.
“It's like the girl or the women should not have a voice; it's always the man, the man, the man,” said Judy Musyoka. “It's like a baby manufacturing thing to just give babies and that's it and cook and clean and do the house chores. You're just there to be seen and not heard. It's very unfair.”
Musyoka is a member of the Box Girls, a Kenyan group aimed at empowering women through the sport of boxing.
The Box Girls work in Nairobi with women and girls who live in marginalized communities, where money is scarce and opportunity scarcer. They use boxing to build both mental and physical self-confidence to achieve goals beyond marriage, pregnancy and child-rearing.
“Boxing is not only about fighting, it's also about life skills and things that help us be empowered,” said Tabitha Njeri, 12, of Nairobi.
Njeri said that her uncle told her that she was crazy, that she would get hurt, that boxing was better left for boys.
“I told him no, uncle, even anyone can do,” she said.
She went to boxing camp, and when she returned unhurt, she explained to her uncle that boxing is about more than throwing punches, it is about throwing yourself into the world with confidence to achieve.
“I started educating him about the importance of boxing and then he understood,” she said.
After globalbike members met the Box Girls in Nairobi during 2011, they invited some of their members on this trip so that the participants from Spartanburg would have a chance to learn about the issues these women and girls face.
“We knew that working with them on this trip would be a great opportunity,” said Jean Crowther, globalbike co-founder.
For example, Consolata Adhiambo, 15, said she wants to attend university and become a journalist. I asked Adhiambo if she was curious about other people. And she said she was. Was she curious about these Americans on the trip? Yes, yes, she said.
How about talking to one of them?
Yes, she said.
She said she wanted to talk to Sally Hammond of Converse College. So
Adhiambo interviewed Hammond in the grass beside the road as the cyclists took a lunch break beside the corn fields near Mount Kilimanjaro.
For other Box Girls, the sport is a end unto itself. Jane Atieno, 24, is going to the Olympics to represent Kenya in boxing.
In the community, when they see Sarah doing boxing and maybe going to the gym and fighting and coming back with a belt, it can change so many attitudes.
Sarah Ndisi, 24, is a professional boxer as well.
Ndisi said that she leads by example. When people see her achieving, that can change attitudes in the community.
Still, men tell her that she won't get married because men will find her intimidating and unfeminine.
“If you can't accept me, don't,” she said.
Men want to prove that they're physically stronger than the woman.
They want to fight, said Atieno.
“The best thing is to just ignore them,” she said.
They heckle and tease, harass and prod.
“They want you to react,” Atieno said.
But the women don't go around hitting people outside of the ring.
Boxing teaches control, and if you can control a solid, tight jab with your first, then you can control your reaction to the things men say, Ndisi said.
Still, it's not all about feelings.
Atieno didn't get to the Olympics with self-confidence alone. When she gets in the ring with a man, those negative words about women suddenly don't matter.
“When you come to the gym or get into the ring, it's obvious,” she said. “I will beat you.”