17-year-old Nisarat "Benz" Sitthi has been fighting her way to the top of northern Thailand's Muay Thai circuit for years. And she's using her fight prize money to pay her family's bills and her tuition.
I met "Benz" back in January on my second day in Thailand. I'd read about a UN Women's initiative launched in April 2014 in cooperation with the World Muaythai Council (WMC) and the International Federation of Muaythai Amateur (IFMA) to try to raise awareness and end acceptability of violence against women. I was determined to find and interview a woman boxer involved in the cause.
Turns out, that wasn't so easy. After a lot of dead ends, my fixer arranged a meeting for me with a regional Muay Thai champion who wasn't involved in the initiative, but who was 17 and leaving her mark on the sport. When I showed up at her bout that night in Chiang Mai, I found Benz sitting on the pavement just beyond the outdoor ring, scrolling through songs on her iPod, and looking about as threatening as a small bird. But when she suited up in her boxing gloves and uniform and climbed through the ropes of the ring, she transformed into a woman I hope never to meet in a dark alley.
In Thai culture, girls are expected to help take care of their families financially. For Benz, boxing started out as a way to do just that. But it's grown into something far more empowering for her and other girls like her.