In Nairobi, These Girls Are Fighting for Their Rights ... in the Ring
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because self-respect is a good reason to throw those hands.
By Matt Foley
“As the population of Kariobangi has increased over the last decade, so too have poverty, unemployment and a sense of hopelessness. Out of this despair has come violence.”
So starts the monologue at the beginning of The Box Girls of Nairobi, a new CBS Sports Network documentary highlighting the impact that sport, specifically boxing, has had on women living in a downtrodden slum within Kenya’s capital city. The film’s narrator is Laila Ali, the former undefeated boxing champion turned host of CBS Sports Network’s We Need to Talk, and daughter of The Greatest. Initially, Ali’s soothing voice feels peculiar given the depressing montage playing out on screen, but as the documentary proceeds, it becomes apparent that her tone is indicative of what’s to come.
“When I actually found out how wonderful this program is in Kenya and saw how the sport has become a vehicle for self-discovery and survival,” Ali says, “it was an honor” to voice it.
The Box Girls of Nairobi tells the story of how one local boxing coach and a young mother, Jane Knight, are using boxing to push back against the violent and antiquated treatment of women in Kariobangi. Following a contentious national election in 2008, violence against women increased in the nation’s slums. Alfred “Priest” Analo, operator of a boxing gym at the local community center, noticed shifting demographics in his crowd. “I could see girls and women, sometimes they would stream into the gym,” Priest explains in the feature. “I told them, ‘Yeah, you know you can do what you want to do. … If you want to box, I’m there.’”
It doesn’t matter what sport or what country — women can be empowered through sport.
Emilie Deutsch, VP of Original Programming and Features at CBS
One of the first women to show up was Knight, who soon began sneaking to the gym to train when she wasn’t working or in school. Like many others, Knight’s family discouraged her interest in the sport, but her emotional and physical development in the wake of tragedy soon caused them to change their tune. The film follows Knight as she grows in and out of the ring, eventually becoming Analo’s lead recruiter and pushing to change the perception of women in Kariobangi. Knight treks up to 6 miles to elementary schools throughout the area, teaching girls through boxing. “I want to see young girls who know their rights,” she says. “I’m very sure we are going to change this community.”
The story felt like a natural fit for CBS airwaves, according to Emilie Deutsch, vice president of original programming and features. “I love venturing into these undertold areas,” she says. “The great thing about this story is it’s a universal message. It doesn’t matter what sport or what country — women can be empowered through sport.”
Ali doesn’t want to see the Box Girls story end with one short documentary. “There needs to be a follow-up to see how the program continues to grow,” she says. ”A lot of times, people in those regions don’t think that anyone is paying attention, but it’s important to remember that as humans we are all connected, and we need to do what we can not only at home but abroad.”
You can catch The Box Girls of Nairobi on the CBS Sports App, CBSSports.com, or via livestream on YouTube TV, fubo TV, DirecTV Now, PlayStation Vue and Hulu.