Strength training

Uganda’s first female-only gym creates a safe space for wellness

Mildred Apenyo says a man once hurled a dumbbell at her, so she decided to open a gym just for women

​In 2014, 25-year-old entrepreneur and writer Mildred Apenyo opened Fit Clique in Kampala, Uganda, the country’s first female-only gym, promising a safe space for women to come together and enjoy wellness. And now the first-of-its-kind gym is flourishing, according to a report by BBC News.

Apenyo hopes to change the view that tough workouts and muscles are just for men, she said, discussing the inspiration behind the female-only workout venue. She recalled going into a mixed gym to lift weights and being subjected to borderline sexual harassment. She said several men questioned why she would want to do weight training, and pointed her toward the aerobics class. She was constantly being told by men, “You are a girl, you should not do that, or that will make you hard,” Apenyo said in an interview with The Daily Monitor. According to Lions at Africa a global consortium that supports entrepreneurs, she said the tipping point came when a man threw a dumbbell at her when she refused to give up the equipment she was using.

Heightening her sense of outrage, those experiences dovetailed with a controversial anti-pornography bill that caused a backlash in the country, spurring assaults on women deemed to be immodestly dressed.  Now under review, the Anti-Pornography Act of 2014 broadly defines pornography as “any representation of the sexual parts of a person for primarily sexual excitement,” according to The Guardian.

Apenyo felt compelled to create an environent where women could feel safe to be themselves and wear the exercise outfits of their choosing without consequence. “This bill that talked ill of women’s bodies fueled my passion further to create a place where women could feel safe to be themselves, she said.

She aims to involve women in more ‘challenging’ activities like kickboxing, self-defense and strength training, without discrimination, molestation or restrictions of any kind.

According to BBC News, while fitness is a flourishing business in Africa, being a woman and going to the gym can be a trial due to a range of limitations, including battles for space, pressure to wear socially acceptable sports gear, and taboos associated with more rigorous sports programs.

Eager to extend her concept to the majority of universities in sub-Saharan Africa, Apenyo hopes that her venture “subconsciously empowers girls to own their space, feel more alive, confident, assertive and deserving of the space they occupy.”

Watch the full BBC News video on Apenyo’s groundbreaking gym here.


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