“Hit higher!” Any listens, takes a deep breath, lifts her shoulders, and throws her clenched fist into the air. For a year, this Ecuadorian, victim of an attempted sexual assault, has practiced boxing to defend herself against men.
Traditionally seen as a “male” practice, more and more women put on gloves as a weapon against gender violence, a phenomenon that affects six out of ten women in Ecuador, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Censuses (INEC) . Most of the cases involve the partners of the victims.
Any Hurtado is 17 years old and studies nursing. Her father emigrated to Spain four years ago and today she lives alone. Last year, while she was returning home, they tried to rape her.
“They started to grab me and try to abuse me. In the middle of the struggle, I thought that I was not going to be able to get away but I got the strength. The one who was closest I hit him and I was able to run away ”, he says.
So she wanted to learn to fight and began to attend a mixed gym in the center of Quito, in the traditional La Tola neighborhood, where she met other women who shared the same fear.
While many are inclined towards martial arts, especially in the middle and upper layers of society, Any and her companions opted for boxing. The feeling of vulnerability they experience on the streets or in their own homes, they explain, led them to a rougher activity. They want to inspire fear.
The INEC estimates that one in four women, 25.7 percent of the total female population of Ecuador (8.9 million), has suffered sexual violence.
“We live in a society in which public space is many times safer for men than for women. So women resort to self-defense (…) when society considers them a vulnerable object, ”explained Santiago Castellanos, an expert psychologist in gender studies at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences.
Tania Lara, 27, and María Vega, 30, frequent the same gym. The first is a domestic worker who claims to have been beaten by her ex-husband, while María sells potatoes in a market in the center of Quito and trains with more pleasure since she put her lessons into practice on the street.
“My cell phone was ripped off and I ran after him. I hit him until he gave it back to me ”, he remembers smiling.
Lara now believes that boxing would have prevented her from the attacks she suffered. “Sometimes it kind of makes me want to go back in time and I think how it would have been if at that time I was like now, a boxer. There it did sound (hit) hard ”, he points out.
The women adjust their gloves before going into the ring. Maria boxes without a protective headboard. “There, Tania! Harder, without fear, don’t leave yourself behind,” shouts Segundo Chango, La Tola’s coach and who gives free lessons to women.
For 15 minutes, Tania and María exchange hooks and straights, and move gracefully under the gaze of other boxers. “You think that a woman doesn’t last a week (boxing), but when you see them there you realize they are strong,” says Eric Bone, one of Chango’s students.
Included in the Olympic program since 2012, professional women’s boxing figures little in Ecuador. However, the number of women who want to learn this sport to defend themselves is increasing.
For a decade, the La Tola gym began to attend women. Today they go up to five a day to train with men, says Chango.
The women of La Tola ignore the prejudice that boxing makes them look less feminine. Amarilis Carbos, a slim 26-year-old office worker, clicks her heels when she walks into the gym. She stores her purse in a locker, removes makeup, and dresses in comfortable clothing.
“My parents never let me train boxing because obviously it was a men’s sport,” he recalls. Today he not only practices it but teaches his eight-year-old daughter his first blows so that she “also learns to defend herself.”