Venezuelan punching for equality in and out of the ring

Caracas (AFP) –


Venezuelan boxer Tayonis Cedeno has a message for women and girls the world over -- believe in yourself and you can break down any barrier.

The 25-year-old from Caracas has been punching for women's rights and gender equality in the boxing gym, where she believes misogyny can be beaten.

"The time has come for women to be recognised as equal to male athletes and we are going to break down that barrier," Cedeño, who boxes in the 49kg division and represented her country at the 2019 world championships, tells AFP.

"We women can do amazing things but we've been forced to swallow the old lie that we're just dolls," she says beneath a poster of herself reading "Boxing's golden girl".

She first excelled in martial arts but got the boxing bug and dropped karate.

"As soon as I started boxing I loved it, I fell in love with it and I refuse to believe women shouldn't box," says the fighter, who has won two South American continental titles.

Cedeno was however confronted by sceptics in Venezuela where she hopes to 'smash' the idea that the so-called noble sport is for men only.

"My parents supported me but some neighbours and relatives have said 'how can you do this? This is for men.'

"Women are capable of many things (where their presence is frowned upon) and not only in boxing," she insists.

To achieve gender parity in boxing Cedeno believes women need greater institutional support, saying the WBA president Gilberto Mendoza, a Venezuelan, could do more.

On the brink of turning professional herself, she says that male boxers have an easier passage into the pro ranks and says women should get more support.

"The men are supported by the sports minister and others.

"But I get the feeling all we need is a little helping hand to really explode into the sport."

- 'Mutual respect' -

She says that discrimination shows its face in boxing when it comes to deciding who gets to compete in tournaments, with men getting priority while women who desperately need the experience are left behind.

"We need more fights so as to be able to measure ourselves against foreign opposition. Above all against Europeans who are the strongest," she says.

Cedeno says she has never suffered harassment herself.

"I have had many coaches and there has always been mutual respect. Thank God I have never had to endure that," she says.

She appears happy and accomplished in a role where many would fear to tread, and believes she has a strong message for girls and women in all domains.

"I tell all women and girls to discover themselves, and that they can do anything if they believe in themselves," she says.

"We are going to break down the walls, the time has come for women to be recognised as men's equal."