Iraqi weightlifter Roqaya Ahmed, trains at a club in Sadr City, east of Baghdad. -AFP
The weightlifters on Iraq's national women's team train hard every day, both to bring home the medals and to help ease the financial burden of running a home.Jerking weights heavier than themselves at a rundown gym in Baghdad's conservative Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City, the young women and girls come together for three hours every day.
The girls are focused as they work out between the small gym's peeling pale mint walls, one of which is adorned with a giant painted Iraqi flag. With their dark hair in high buns and dressed in team green tracksuit tops, black shorts and leggings, they raise an arm and turn from side to side to warm up. Then they work out hanging from a pull-up bar, before moving to different mats to get down to the business of lifting weights.
"To those who say weightlifting is not for girls, I say we can do everything men do," says Huda Salim al-Saedi, 20, patting chalk powder from her hands. "I challenge men to lift weights and I'm proud of it," says the weightlifter, her eyebrows trimmed neatly and a black bandana keeping her hair from falling in her face.
Huda was one of the first to be recruited when coach Abbas Ahmed in 2011 set out to create Iraq's first national female weightlifting team. At first, it was an uphill battle. "It was very, very hard," says the former men's coach, who is now 54. "Society rejected the idea," with conservatives considering the sport inappropriate for women and girls.
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