These young women are Iraq’s only female weightlifting team. Every day, for three hours, they train in this old gym in Baghdad's conservative Sadr city neighbourhood
21-year-old Huda was the first to join the team in 2011. She says she has been watching weightlifters since she was five years old.
Huda Salim, 21, a member of the Iraqi female weightlifting team said "Some say I challenge men, that women don't do weightlifting. I tell them: No, I challenge men, and we can do everything that they do. If they practice this sport, then so can we. There’s no difference between men and women."
When coach Abbas Ahmed was tasked by the Iraqi weightlifting federation with forming a women’s team, he faced some resistance.
But the hard work paid off: last year, the team competed in Asia… And returned with several medals.
Abbas Ahmed, coach of the Iraqi female weightlifting team, said “We lack logistics and infrastructure. If we had more support we could keep up with international teams, have modern equipment and so on. But as you see, despite the limited resources we are continuing to work hard and participate in international competitions.”
Weightlifting is also a way of providing an income for their families…
The monthly stipend they receive from the national sports organization, which can reach 800 dollars, is no small detail for these girls who often come from modest families.
Khadija Ismail, 20, a member of the team “I love weightlifting, and thanks to this sport, I earn a salary for myself and my family. And in this gym here, we became champions."
The team's future generation is already in the making, with girls as young as 12 saying they dream of the Olympics.