Uganda’s First Female Gym Creates Safe Space for Women

For most people, gyms are meant for working out. That’s not always the case for women who feel under scrutiny while they exercise. One woman in Uganda has made it her mission to change that.

For Mildred Apenyo, working out was not just for show. While she had no problems with aerobics classes, she was drawn to weight lifting and building muscles. What started out as a way of keeping fit became a daily struggle to fight against comments made by men who thought that she would be better doing aerobics, not weight lifting. The men would say that lifting weights was for men and not appropriate for women. In addition, they said women shouldn’t lift weights because “it would make them hard”. She was constantly harassed to the point where she needed to do something to feel safe. Her answer was to open FitCliqueAfrica, the first only female gym in Kampala, Uganda.

Her motivation was to provide a safe space where women don’t have to worry about being harassed for what workouts they want to do. In addition, women who typically go to the gym are self-conscious about their workout clothes. For Apenyo,  FitClique allows women to wear what they want and are free to work out on machines or do aerobics, but it’s their choice. In addition to providing weight lifting machines and aerobics, Apenyo has also included self-defense classes as options for women to take.

I, for one, don’t particularly like going to the gym. It’s not for safety reasons, but for feeling self-conscious of how I look compared to others. Most times, I wear baggy yoga pants and a tee-shirt because I don’t want to attract any unwanted attention. As a woman and a Mom of a teenage girl, I would like to think that going to the gym wouldn’t be a fashion show or a place to be picked up, but sadly, they tend to be both for some. While I keep to myself, it’s hard not to notice how these situations can transpire and cause some women to swear off exercising in public. Has the possibility of being judged stopped me from working out in public places? No. But it has made me rethink how to continue working out without being scrutinized.

Apenyo’s goal is to be able to build more gyms for women because she knows how crucial it is to have a safe space. The idea of a female only gym may not be thought of economically profitable or traditionally acceptable in Uganda, but it is an investment in women’s future and their safety. That’s my view on this, what’s yours?


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