Gloves on for Mana Wāhine - Feature

By Mere McLean
  • Waikato/Bay of Plenty

The community of Kawerau has struggled in the past with social stigma and bad news headlines, but this week a Mana Wāhine boxing fight night will be held, highlighting the strength of women in the region.

According to Warwick Godfrey, “This tournament is about showcasing these young girls not only walking tall with confidence and looking fit and also mentally tough, self-esteem, confidence, showcasing these girls as great role models for young girls.”

“All of these young women have come from backgrounds of domestic violence. They have grown above that and use this sport for professional development.”

Warwick Godfrey is no stranger to the media. A former Mongrel Mob member turned local councillor he is known for his community work and has been training this group of women.

The all-women boxing tournament has been two years in the making. For most of the fighters it will be their first time in the ring. For one young mother Zhantellie Te Riini, just making it to training has been hard work. 

“Big shout out goes out to my family. They always help to look after my baby and my partner is really awesome.”

“But I'll wake up, take her to day care, go to training, finish ten minutes early so I can go home for a shower, go to work, come to training about half-an-hour late, still carry on and then go home and do it all again the next day.”

The family atmosphere works well for the group of women boxers. They attend a no-fees gym and the only requirement is determination and confidence. 

Close to 7000 people live in the Kawerau district. It's a community that has seen a lot of set-backs.

Between 2010 and 2011 the community was rocked by a number of suicides of young people, but a number of people within the community say that Kawerau has a future, like Davina Thompson who is participating in the tournament.  

“In Kawerau and Aotearoa, it's just to stand up, you know, stand on your own two feet and be strong and be proud of who you are as a lady, because I think we have the most important job.” 

The tournament has highlighted women's independence, but with-in Māoridom this is not a new concept.  

If there is a key message in this tournament it is that Māori women have evolved into very strong examples for society, capturing the spirit of Papa-tū-ā-nuku, Hine-ahu-one, Hine-tītama and Hine-nui-te-pō.