(Photo: AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
Mary Kom is the only athlete to have won a medal at each of the six Women's World Amateur Boxing Championships (five of them were gold). Now she's turned her attention to a very different kind of fight: the effort to help women in India feel safe on the streets.
Kom is launching a free smartphone app that will teach women techniques about how they can defend themselves from would-be attackers. Those strategies include kicking and punching, but also advice on how to use common handheld objects like keys or high-heeled shoes. Like many workout apps, it will include video demonstrations of each technique. There will also be a more basic text-only version of the app targeted at women with regular mobile phones.
The app comes in response to a series of news stories about brazen sexual assaults in India, particularly the infamous 2012 gang-rape and murder of a woman in Delhi.
"We are really affected as women," Kom told Wired.co.uk. "Day by day the crime increases."
The app will also include contact information for helplines for women who've been attacked, something that's particularly important since sexual crimes are believed to be significantly under-reported in India.
The endeavour is a personal one for Kom — as the Daily Mail reports, she once had to defend herself from an attack from a rickshaw driver in the days before her boxing career had taken off.
"I remember I went to church wearing a traditional wraparound dress," she told the Daily Mail. "I was 18 years old and looked very ladylike." Kom says she used her boxing training to punch the driver, knocking him to the ground before escaping.
In addition to developing the app, Kom has also run a self-defence camp for women in Manipur, her native state. "The women are learning techniques like the one-two step, so I think that will be helpful in the future," she told Wired.co.uk. "And if they keep training that will really help them protect themselves."
Some advocates of self-defence point out a tension between encouraging women to fight back and blaming victims of attack who don't undergo such training. But Kom's initiative aims to inspire Indian women to develop their self-confidence and self-defence skills without taking responsibility off the offenders.
Both projects are sponsored by the mobile telephone company Vodafone as part of its Firsts program.
The app is expected to launch later this year.