International Women’s Day is celebrated annually on March 8; it’s an opportunity to honour the achievements of women and proclaim the call to action for an acceleration of gender equality. This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #ChooseToChallenge, and we would like to take this opportunity to honour just some of the many women in Boxing Ontario who are doing just that: challenging gender bias and inequality, celebrating women’s achievements, providing mentorship to young women and girls, creating an inclusive world, developing opportunities for women, and so much more. Athletes, coaches, and officials were nominated based on these qualities, and they shared with us what the #ChooseToChallenge theme means to them, the barriers they’ve faced, the importance of representation, and the advice they would give to women looking to advance their careers in the sport of boxing.

While there is still work to be done to achieve gender parity in boxing, we are making great strides thanks to the efforts of many trailblazing women. Boxing Ontario President, Jennifer Huggins, recounts, “I’ve had the opportunity to witness firsthand, the growth in boxing and the incredible contributions women have made to our sport over the years. Since the introduction of women’s boxing in the 2012 Olympic Games, involvement at every level has exploded.  Some of Canada’s most celebrated accomplishments in the sport, are directly credited to our female boxers from right here in Ontario. Mary Spencer made history as the first Canadian and the first Indigenous female boxer to compete in the 2012 London Olympics. Over the past decade, Mandy Bujold has brought home medals from The PanAm Games, Commonwealth Games, represented us at Rio 2016 and hopes to qualify once again for Tokyo 2021. Jill Perry has not only represented Canada internationally as an accomplished boxer, she has also taken leadership roles as a coach at the last Commonwealth Games and continues to offer support to our promising athletes, volunteering on various Boxing Ontario committees. There is long list of inspirational women who have paved the way, personally inspiring me to work harder to continue the momentum. I look forward to seeing what’s to come, as the success builds and we blaze new trails for women in the sport of boxing.”

Boxing Ontario has a high percentage of women in influential leadership roles, and we would like to acknowledge the contributions and achievements of these amazing Board and Committee Members:

  • Jennifer Huggins – President, Boxing Ontario; Chair, Officials Commission
  • Lee Smith – Director at Large, Boxing Ontario; Board Liaison, Female Development Committee
  • Kristina Ejem – Chair, Female Development Committee
  • Helene Jafine – Committee Member, Female Development Committee
  • Bonnie Hunter – Committee Member, Female Development Committee
  • Melinda Watpool – Committee Member, Female Development Committee
  • Jill Perry – Chair, High Performance Committee
  • Tara Boimistruck, Northern Ontario Director, Officials Commission
  • Val Ryan – Director of Administration, Officials Commission
  • Natasha Spence – Committee Member, Coaching Committee

Melinda Watpool

The International Women’s Day slogan, #ChooseToChallenge means to me that I will not sit back and let gender inequality and bias go unnoticed. I will use my position on the Boxing Ontario Female Development Committee to speak up and challenge areas of gender stereotypes. Although, I have been lucky to have mainly good experiences in boxing and other sports, I know that is not the same for everyone. It should not depend on luck; it should be the norm. I am seeing the bias more and more in the sport community, and women should have the opportunity to focus and excel in boxing without having to deal with gender bias. They should be able to put all their mental, physical, and psychological energy into training and achieving their boxing goals instead of fighting gender inequality.

Boxing has always been a great outlet for anger and frustration for me personally and in programs, such as Shape Your Life, I have seen it empower women from various backgrounds. Boxing also helps build confidence in your body and makes you feel strong inside and out, as well as gain discipline, focus, and perseverance. There are endless mental and physical benefits of boxing, but the biggest I believe is the friends and community that you have an opportunity to get to know. The great men and women I have met throughout my boxing career have turned into best friends, support systems, and a second family. I have had the opportunity to participate in many different types of sports; boxing has not always been the easiest, but if you put in the time and effort, it will give you the confidence to stand up straight and look at the world instead of looking at the ground.

Lyla Simon

Women officials in sport (referees and judges) continue to face obstacles. Studies have shown that women (and others experiencing systemic oppression) often leave officiating for a number of reasons, including a lack of mutual respect from their counterparts, stereotypes/bias from participants and spectators, and the absence of role models and mentoring. These factors may also prevent women (and others) from entering into officiating in the first place.

The good news is that Olympic-style boxing has worked hard to cultivate a culture of inclusion and equity in officiating. Still, it’s beneficial to look critically at our sport, identify any ongoing barriers, develop pathways to improve, and start to execute on it.

Officiating in any sport can be very tough at times. Officials need to be highly knowledgeable (eating the rules of the sport for breakfast), resilient, and adaptable. We have to be focused, fair, and accurate. We also need to have endurance, be able to laugh, and be humble about the role we play – remember, without athletes, there are no officials. It also has to be said that like most things that are challenging, officiating is also really rewarding and yes…fun!

Having watched a number of female officials excel to the highest levels in boxing, and having received great mentoring myself in this sport, I have committed to mentoring anyone who wants to become a boxing official. If this is something you are committed to, please reach out to one of the many amazing officials in Canada, and let’s have a conversation. 

Bonnie Hunter

#ChooseToChallenge to me means every day choosing to use my voice to create equal opportunities for females in boxing. Forcing roles to be created for women to lead and teach, so that these roles become the norm. 

We need female coaches to bring a different viewpoint to the sport of boxing. Having coaches that understand the issues young girls may be facing means they may be able to guide them and help continue their growth as athletes at such an important time in their lives. Representation matters – seeing someone that looks like you, that has reached goals you are working for, makes the path more attainable. 

Val Ryan

For most of my life I have been emerged in a male-dominated world. As the owner of a mechanical company, and a boxing official for over thirty years, the confines of stereotypes were never a consideration for me. I am a strong, intelligent, and determined person and never let my gender stand in the way of my dreams. I think strong women need to be more visible in our communities. Not the objectified images our youth are bombarded with daily, but women they can form bonds with and be inspired by. The world is changing for the better and we are all a part of it! It is exciting to see in my lifetime how far women have come, especially in the sport of boxing. Women now play an integral part in competition, officiating, and administration. My advice to the younger generations of women is to take a good look at this panel of women – embrace their strength; be inspired by their success. They did it – and so can you.

Heather Hopkins

Every day is special to me when I get to train myself, and especially, when I train others. I #ChooseToChallenge gender stereotypes and bias in boxing and all sports. My participation in amateur boxing has shown me the strength in myself and in my female teammates. I #ChooseToChallenge more females to take up a coaching role. We see fewer barriers in taking up a new sport when we see people who look like us achieving and leading in the sport that calls to us. 

Boxing has given me strength, discipline, and confidence. It challenges me everyday, and I will step up to meet the challenge. It is always worth it. As a coach, I strive to be a role model to every boxer and athlete I train, and strive to motivate them to accomplish amazing things. 

Olga Rosa Heron

#ChooseToChallenge to me means to challenge myself in my everyday walk.

Don’t get discouraged, continue to pursue your dreams, overcoming obstacles along the way and celebrating achievements of other women!