Boxing sport helps in bridging gender inequality in South Sudan

The game of boxing is helping to put South Sudanese girls and boys on the same pedestal, as the youngest nation fights to eliminate gender inequality and sexual abuses that have featured prominently over the years since independence in 2011.
Martha Franco, a 22-year-old female boxer (Right) poses in a group photo with other female boxers at the boxing training facility in Jebel suburb of Juba.

By Simon Deng

The game of boxing is helping to put South Sudanese girls and boys on the same pedestal, as the youngest nation fights to eliminate gender inequality and sexual abuses that have featured prominently over the years since independence in 2011.

Many young women in Juba are picking interest in boxing with the aim of protecting themselves against sexual related violence. Others said they dream of excelling in the boxing game at regional and international tournaments.

Martha Franco, a 22-year-old female boxer and mother of one told The Dawn on Saturday during a training session, that she is aiming to lure many young girls to join the sport.

“I want to get so many medals in order to elevate the dignity and respect for girls on the same level with their male counterparts, and my expectation is to represent South Sudan at the global level,” Franco said.

Franco is among the first cohort of 35 female boxers undergoing routine training sessions since June 2023 under the watchful eye of male coaches.

She already boasts of having represented South Sudan in continental boxing tournaments in Algeria and Uganda.

Franco is currently preparing with some of her team mates to compete at the upcoming genocide memorial boxing tournament in Kigali, Rwanda scheduled for June 16.

“Boxing is not only for boys, it is for everybody, in the outside world we have seen women excelling in boxing and so we must also represent South Sudan in boxing tournaments,” she said.

Akon Deng, a 17-year-old aspiring boxer said she is juggling boxing with her primary school education due to passion for the sport.

She disclosed that she was inspired to enroll for training in boxing after seeing many of her age mates enrolled for training.

“Boxing was for boys but now it is for everybody, I decided to join training after seeing my age mates practicing. I have passion in boxing and I hope to be a good boxer, I want to be a boxer in Juba and even beyond,” Deng said.

Akon Deng practicing on a punching bag.

Apiok Mayol, 13, said that she has not only improved her health but also made new friends from across different ethnic groups in the country because of boxing.

“I hope the game of boxing will be good for me and my country, I want to benefit from boxing, I want also my family to benefit and also to represent the country,” Mayol said.

Okumu Jalaba,28, a former refugee in Uganda said the game of boxing has opened new horizons for young talented South Sudanese.

“I was in the refugee camp practicing boxing but being a refugee you cannot participate in boxing tournaments,” Jalaba said.

Jalaba said he is profoundly grateful to the South Sudan Boxing Federation for having helped him realize his potential.

He has since 2014 been part of the teams that have represented the country at regional boxing tournaments.

“Boxing is the most respectful game, it is not as it sounds, most people think when you are a boxer you are a fighter. A real boxer cannot fight on the street and that is what inspired me,”

Jalaba who is among the few male boxers attending training at the boxing facility developed by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said his dream before he hangs up his boxing gloves is to influence many girls to embrace professional boxing.

“The game of boxing is contributing to unity, we do not have tribes, and we do not call anyone by tribe, we have boxing as the tribe and we speak Arabic and English,” he said.

Ali Musiri Teyo, a 56- year- old veteran coach at the South Sudan Boxing Federation, said the game of boxing is not only promoting unity among people but it is also contributing toward peace in the country.

“Boxing in South Sudan began with boys but of recent girls have joined the sport, and we want our girls to be represented in the upcoming 2026 boxing tournament in France,” Teyo said.

He noted that there is need to invest and establish modern training facilities in order for amateur boxers to realize their potential in the country.

Another senior coach at the South Sudan Boxing Federation, Mohammed Ramadan Sebuliba, said their main focus is on mentoring and development of girls in the game of boxing because of the need to promote gender equality in the sport.

“We need to show them (girls) that they can do many activities in the society without being discriminated,” Sebuliba said.

He noted that the future of boxing in South Sudan is bright, adding that the boxing federation sees boxing as a tool to promote peace and cohesion within the country.

“We need to see South Sudan boxing going far just like the basketball game,” Sebuliba said.

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