KABUL: Inside the Afghanistan Powerlifting Federation’s cramped gym, Rasheda Parhiz lies on a bench wearing a tunic over sweatpants and holding a 70-kilogram (150-pound) weighted bar above her scarf-covered head.
The 40-year-old began powerlifting several years ago to help lose weight – she used to weigh 120kg and hid her ample frame under a burqa.
Now a fitter 82kg, Parhiz’s ability to lift 100kg has brought the mother of three trophies and medals in local and regional competitions, which she keeps in a plastic shopping bag in her mud-brick home.
“We are too lazy to dust them,” says her 22-year-old daughter Lema, explaining why they are not displayed in the living room window next to tea sets and thermos.
“Who’s interested?” Parhiz asks modestly.
Several times a week Afghanistan’s female powerlifting team squeezes into a small carpeted room in Kabul where they strip off their body-covering abayas and pump iron.
Lifting weights heavier than themselves, the women are also flexing their muscles in a deeply conservative and patriarchal country where sport has long been the domain of men.