Documentary reveals problems facing female boxers

Updated: August 21, 2012

Women’s boxing was one of the great success stories of London 2012 and  not just from an Irish viewpoint – indeed as we previously reported the sport’s International Boxing Association (A.I.B.A) declared that the introduction of women boxers – the last Olympic sport to include both sexes – was considered to be one of the highlights of the entire London 2012 Olympic Games, enticing spectators and media from around the world to one of the hottest venues of the past weeks.

The Katie Taylor story has been featured in just about every corner of the earth and rightly so , yet here let us look at the great achievement of another of the world’s finest pugilists, Mary Kom from Manipur – pinweight  Mary was one of those who had to move up two weight classes just to qualify for the Olympics but yet ‘Magnificent Mary’  managed to pull off a Bronze behind new Olympic champion Nikki Adams and China’s world title holder Cancan Ren.

Mary has long  been one of the pioneers of women’s boxing and indeed has won the World Championship crown on five occasions.  Mary and the other Indian women have come up against every possible barrier in their home land to gain acceptance for women’s boxing and have had to fight against numerous prejudices. Later this year there will be a new documentary  “With This Ring” which should be compulsive viewing for every boxer male or female and not only in India but worldwide. The documentary’s producers Anna Sarkissian and Ameesha  Joshi    have spent the past six years following the brave Indian women boxers around the world, mainly at their own expense. So what particular problems do the Indian women face?

Let Ameesha and Anna  speaking from Canada tell us of  some of the many problems they do face and that will not go away “immediately” despite Mary Kom’s bronze in London.

“The 35-strong Indian women’s national boxing team trains year-round, six days a week in blistering heat and heavy downpours. As you can imagine, women’s boxing is neither popular nor widely accepted in India, where many women are pressured to marry and abandon their career aspirations.

They are some of the best boxers in the world. And the most under-appreciated.

These women are trailblazers in the purest sense, who can inspire others around the world to step out of the mold and pursue their passion. Though some women have risen to power and achieved prominence in India, many are still treated like second class citizens. The rate of female infanticide and sex-selective abortions is alarming, to say the least. Though these issues are complex and linked with religious, financial, and cultural concerns, suffice it to say that these boxers have had their share of hurdles and there is so much we can learn from their journey.

Though Mary is now becoming a household name (finally!), the other boxers train in relative anonymity, with little to no recognition for their achievements. There are numerous world champions (at different grades inc youth and junior)  on the team who started out with nothing and fought against centuries of tradition to rise to the top. Without this film, their inspirational stories would be cast into the shadows”.

“Young women in India are usually known as somebody’s sister, daughter, wife or mother. For the first time, they are gaining independence by setting their own goals, living independently, and taking the world by storm.

Yes, some have short hair. And yes, they show their legs and wear athletic gear–something which most Indians would frown upon. As one woman that we interviewed put it, wearing shorts amounts to “degrading women.”

Their parents are concerned. At least, they are at the beginning. With bruises or scars on their face or hands, they worry that their daughters will never marry. The importance of holy matrimony cannot be underestimated in India. It’s the most important day of your life.

Then, the boxers start winning. In the case of five-time world champion Mary Kom, her parents only found out she was a fighter when they saw her picture in the newspaper. Her father wasn’t pleased. Mary is now the most successful amateur boxer (male or female) in history and supports her husband and two children financially. Her family came around.

Boxing isn’t all about glory or world championships. Many of these women are boxing to get out of poverty. Successful athletes are often rewarded with government jobs  in the railway or police force, complete with pensions and benefits. It’s almost like hitting the jackpot.

All this doesn’t come easy. The Indian women’s national boxing team, composed of about 35 boxers, trains year-round. Whether it’s 50 degrees or 5 degrees, they wake up at dawn and start working. They generally train two to three times a day, six days a week, for up to 2 hours at a time.

Some of the boxers are also in school at the same time. Their schedule goes something like this: train, eat breakfast, school, train, eat lunch, school, dinner, train, sleep. It’s non-stop.“

True, all women have had to fight against prejudice for many years to even get to the Olympics, and many great former champions have never made it , but few have faced the struggle that Mary Kom has – she became India’s first ever women’s Olympic medallist – against all the odds.

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