This female boxer in Uganda is inspiring young women to fight for themselves

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Self-defense, an essential tool for women living in Katanga, is a concept Hellen Baleke knows very well. In this slum — one of the largest in Kampala, Uganda’s capital city — boxing gives women the opportunity to learn a new skill and keeps them off the streets. “You have to fight if you want to survive,” says Baleke.

As a professional boxer, she has been throwing jabs and uppercuts for the past 15 years. In the 2019 African Games, Baleke won a bronze medal, becoming the first Ugandan woman to bring home a boxing medal in 18 years.

Growing up, her uncles taught her how to fight to defend herself, and now she’s inspiring other young women to do the same.

“I admired her since childhood, and I want to become like her. I want to become a senior boxer in Uganda,” says Christine, one of the women Baleke trains.

Self-defense isn’t the only life skill Baleke is teaching to young women in Katanga. She owns a tailoring business where she hires young girls, teaching them how to sew. “If you [are] on the sewing machine making something, you can make money,” she says. “You cannot box for your entire life.”

While the Covid-19 pandemic has put both boxing and sewing on hold, Baleke hopes to get her girls back into training soon. Her ultimate dream is to begin a fashion company and start her own gym.