FEATURE: Zim female boxing referee defies odds in male-dominated sport

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By Tafara Mugwara I Xinhua

HARARE: In a boxing ring, a fierce fight rages on as two young men exchange blows.

An overly excited crowd of boxing enthusiasts cheered loudly in support of the winning fighter.

The referee of the match, Diana Makumbe, is one of the few female referees and judges in Zimbabwe delivering a blow to gender stereotypes in the combat sport.

“When I am in the ring I feel like I am representing all the women,” Makumbe told Xinhua after a boxing tournament in Harare.

Despite traditional beliefs that steer women away from sports such as boxing, Makumbe has broken the glass ceiling to become one of the most prominent boxing officials in Zimbabwe.

“I feel happy when I am selected to stand tall in male-dominated work environments,” Makumbe proudly said.

After leading a successful boxing career for about 15 years, the former bantamweight national champion progressed to become a referee and judge.

She said despite being perceived to be a male sport, presumably because of its combat nature, boxing has no gender.

“No sport can be said this is for men, this is for women. A person is a person,” Makumbe said. “What a man can do, a woman can do as well, there is no difference.”

As the world marks International Women’s Day on Tuesday, Makumbe said although the battle has not been won yet, women have made strides in traditionally “masculine” sports.

This year’s Women’s Day is celebrated under the theme “Gender Equality Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow” in Zimbabwe, calling for a gender-equal world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination.

Makumbe urged women to take a leaf from her and venture into traditionally male-dominated domains.

“If you challenge yourself by saying how can another woman do it, it means as a woman you can do it as well,” she said.

“These are the rights that were extended to women. If we look at previous years, boxing was considered to be a male sport, but with the advancement of women’s rights as women we are now able to do sports that were considered to be for men,” she added.

After being treated unfairly during the time when she was a professional boxer, Makumbe said her duty now as a referee and judge is to ensure a clean and fair fight in the ring.

In addition, she said her ultimate goal is to establish a boxing academy so that she can train other female boxers.