By: Ayishatu Zakaria Ali
Osman Faruza already knows what it feels like to challenge the status quo as a female. She believes the world is a place for equality. However, she is very much aware that the journey won’t be rosy.
Faruza is paddling steadily on the horizon, eyes glued on her quest to change the narrative about female boxing in Ghana.
Stories such as Ramla Said Ahmed Ali, a Somali professional boxer and model who was the first Somali boxer in history to compete at the Olympic Games, and the first female to become a professional boxer, serves as an inspiration and at the same time a driving force for most woman on the continent.
Boxing is one of the dominant sport disciplines in Ghana with many success stories over the years. Notables amongst them include Azumah Nelson, a two-weight World Champion who dominated the Featherweight and Super-Featherweight divisions between 1984 to 1997; Ike Quartey, former WBA welterweight champion; David Kotey (D.K Poison), Ghana first World boxing champion, Joshua Clottey, former IBF welterweight holder among others.
Although female boxing gained popularity in Ghana in the 1990’s, there have been less progress compared to their male counterparts. And Faruza has willed herself to change that narrative.
Few female boxers trigger fond memories among lovers of the sports in the West African country, but for the 23-year-old, that has been one of her motivations; ruling the world as a ‘Female Champion’ and flying high her national colors.
Born and bred in Nima, a suburb of Ghana’s capital, Accra, famous for producing many sporting icons including Mohamed Kudus of Dutch giants, Ajax Amsterdam, boxing was not Faruza’s first love. Rather it was football, the most popular sports in her neighborhood and the country in general. After her dream of joining the Ghana Army fizzled into thin air, reality hit her in the face.
The former Sports Prefect of Kinbu Senior High Technical School was then working as a Security Guard at the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission of Ghana.
“I was on trials with a football club until the final selection day which I couldn’t show up because I had to report for work. I reported the next day and I was told they were done with the selection.
“I decided to move around since it was a general sports facility and that is where I came across two ladies boxing. I stood there for a while, then later approached the trainer to tell him ‘I want to box’. He asked if I had ever boxed. I replied no, but I felt I could do it,” Faruza recalled.
Few minutes, she was handed a pair of gloves and an opponent, and that was how her boxing journey started.
The involvement of women in sports has often been greeted with mixed reactions, mainly in African society, and for Faruza, her biggest fear was how her family, friends and community would accept her decision because of her background as a practicing Muslim.
Her toughest moment arose when she had to accept her destiny, inform her parents and go through societal awkwardness for challenging the status quo.
For weeks, Faruza was gripped with fear of the thought of being an outcast and rejected by her community especially her parents. However, she found a huge pillar in her sister who went out of her way to compile her training videos to show to her parents.
“One day, I got back from training and after my prayers, I approached my parents to break the news to them. I showed the videos to my mom first. She shouted and enquired whether I was the person in the video?
After, she passed the video to my dad who questioned why I was into boxing? My mom probed further by asking If I was comfortable doing that, and I replied in the affirmative. Surprisingly, they gave me their blessings after that tensed conversation.”
Having gained the trust and blessing from her parents, the next puzzle Faruza needed to solve was society’s acceptance.
“In 2020, I was selected for the national boxing team and a media open day was arranged at my gym for selected media professionals. That was when a lot of friends and neighbors got to know I was into boxing.
“They were not welcoming and accommodating which didn’t surprised me because sports is seen as a taboo for females and to make matters worse, I chose boxing which is definitely a no-go area.”
“Initially, I denied being a boxer when people approached me because psychologically and emotionally, I was not ready for their negative feedback and backlash. I was not ashamed of the profession but I was only trying to protect my peace and space. Later, I said to myself this is the work I have chosen to do, so why should I hide my identity? That is when I started posting on my social media pages that I am now a boxer.”
The determination and resilience of Faruza grew stronger having conquered her first fears. Holding her gloves close to her chest, she fostered on.
At the Fit Square Boxing Gym where she trains, Faruza indicated that she looks up to 2007 African Games silver medalist, Jessie Manyo Plange, and Jessie Lartey, bronze winner at the 2018 Commonwealth Games as her mentors.
Later, she will get to know and learn about the globally renowned boxers, Laila Ali and Clarissa Shields.
“Often, I go on YouTube to watch more of their videos and learn from them. Also, I got the opportunity to interact with Azumah Nelson who is a frequent visitor to my gym. I cherish such moments because he monitors my sessions and guide me on tricks of the sport. He advised that through focus and determination I can become one of the best female boxers in the world,” Faruza revealed.
Vincent Akai Nettey, one of the trainers of the Black Bombers (nickname for Ghana’s boxing team) is already a fan of the 23-year-old.
“She is well mannered, hardworking, focused and determined to make a name for herself and the nation. She is one of the brightest boxers I have come across. I have no doubt in her abilities to make history.
“I admire her understanding of the challenge that comes with the profession, especially with her being female. But Faruza is a strong girl who doesn’t give up no matter the difficulties.”
Despite her resilience and grit, she almost threw in the towel after some setbacks. However, the support of her loved ones quenched that negative ambition.
“I reached that crossroad where I almost quit boxing but the advice and encouragement I got from my dad, and my trainers cleared my mind of all doubt. I continued to put in hard work day in, day out and with time I developed greater love for the sport.”
According to her, the best moment so far was “the privilege to have represented Ghana at the international level.” She took part in the 69KG weight category during the African championship in Dakar, Senegal but failed to qualify for the London 2020 Olympic Games.
For now, she has set sights on the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, where is hoping to become the first Ghanaian to compete at the level.
Despite her young tenure in the sport, Faruza continues to enjoy accolades haven been voted best boxer at the Girls Box 2020 event as well as a special award from the Women In Sports Association of Ghana.