Throwing knockout punches at the scourge of abuse


Gender-based violence is a devastating scourge in South Africa. At least one in every five women in our country experience some form of abuse in their lifetime. While the onus shouldn’t be on women to be safe, it does help to know how to fight back when necessary. Ndivile Mafenuka started learning how to box when she was in Grade 4. “It’s exciting to see how feeling safe can free you,” she says. Now she coaches others in the hopes of improving their lives and safety. “It makes me sad that we have to teach girls to defend themselves,” she says. Yet everyone deserves to feel safe and confident, which is why so many young women are choosing to participate in what is considered a typically masculine practice. “It inspires me to see girls empowering themselves through the sport,” Mafenuka says.

As a coach and facilitator for Boxgirls, Mafenuka is equipping women and young girls with the skills needed to defend themselves from physical harm as well as societal challenges. “I don’t just teach girls to box; I teach them to fight for the right to be respected,” she says. Boxgirls is part of an international network of coaches and projects that brings about social change through boxing. Young boxers learn life and leadership skills, as well as the importance of community participation and self-defence. “What motivates me to be part of Boxgirls is that I get to work with young girls that come from the same background as me, so I know some of the challenges that they are facing,” Mafenuka says.

Having faced stereotypes about women being weak all her life, Mafenuka is proving the inherent strength of herself and others. “Learning to fight like a girl is not about starting fights,” she says. “It’s about protecting each other.” Together, the learners at Boxgirls are improving their confidence, gaining independence and leaving the programme as leaders. Mafenuka believes that even the challenge of having learners from various backgrounds is a benefit for all the girls as some are motivated to aspire to the successes of their peers while others are given the chance to develop themselves as role models. “If women are empowered to stand up for themselves, I think they can change the world for the better,” Mafenuka says.