Afghan women power-lifters flex their muscles

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In this Photo taken on March 4, 2018, Afghanistan national powerlifting team member Rasheda Parhiz (L), 40, poses for a picture with her trophies and medals at her home in Kabul.(AFP)
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In this Photo taken on March 4, 2018, Afghanistan national powerlifting team member Rasheda Parhiz, 40, assist teammate Sadya Ayubi on a bench press exercise during a training session at a women's gym at Ghazi stadium in Kabul. (AFP)
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In this Photo taken on March 4, 2018, Afghanistan national powerlifting team member Rasheda Parhiz, 40, reacts during a deadlift exercise as teammate Sadya Ayubi looks on during a training session at a women's gym at Ghazi stadium in Kabul. (AFP)
Updated 07 March 2018
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Afghan women power-lifters flex their muscles

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.
The Afghan Olympic Committee started the federation seven years ago but it has struggled to attract women, who are often discouraged from playing sport on the grounds of protecting their virtue.
Powerlifting is a branch of weightlifting using the squat, bench press and deadlift techniques but without any moves which lift the weight vertically overhead.
There are 20 women on the national team compared with more than 100 in the men’s squad, which also receives more official support, says Totakhail Shahpor, who has been the women’s coach for the past three years after his predecessor absconded during a competition in Canada.
The 52-year-old former soldier considers it his duty to encourage and protect his female charges.
“I treat them like my daughters,” Shahpor says. “If I imposed discipline like the army, the next day I would have no one left.”

Motivated

To keep them motivated Shahpor pushes the women to take part in competitions even though each of them only receive 1,000 afghanis (less than $15) a month — barely enough to cover transport costs.
“Look at their shirts and trousers, they do not even have shoes,” he says pointing to Sadia Ahmadi’s grey and yellow tracksuit that has a large patch on the thigh.
Ahmadi, 25, is the most successful member of the women’s team, winning four gold medals at competitions in Uzbekistan, India and Kazakhstan, Shahpor says proudly.
Despite the taboos around female sport, the women claim they enjoy the backing, even encouragement, of their fathers or husbands to do powerlifting.
“My husband is happy... he is proud of me and pushing me,” says Parhiz.
But there are limits to his support, and he would probably balk if powerliftin ever became an Olympic sport.
Lema says her father does not approve of his daughters attending public gyms, because sporty girls are considered “bad.”
“He wouldn’t like to see me at the Olympics,” Parhiz says.


Distracted biking: Dutch ban for cyclists using mobile phones

Updated 26 September 2018
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Distracted biking: Dutch ban for cyclists using mobile phones

  • The government is to ban the use of all but hands-free devices while cycling
  • Cycling is a way of life in the Netherlands, where bikes outnumber people

THE HAGUE, Netherlands: The sight of cyclists hurtling along while glued to their smartphones is a common one in the bike-mad Netherlands, but it will soon be illegal.
With a growing number of accidents involving phones and bikes, the government is to ban the use of all but hands-free devices while cycling.
“It is forbidden to use a mobile electronic device while driving any vehicle (including a bicycle),” says the draft law announced by Transport Minister Cora van Nieuwenhuizen late Tuesday.
The bike law will take effect from July next year.
Car and lorry drivers are already banned from using mobiles at the wheel unless they are in hands-free mode, with a maximum fine of €230 ($260), but the new law specifically mentions bikes.
The fine is likely to be the same for cyclists but the government is awaiting the result of a public consultation, Nieuwenhuizen said.
“It’s just as dangerous on a bike and on all types of vehicles as it is in a car,” she said. “The fact is that when you are on the road you have to pay full attention and not send messages or do other things on the phone.”
Michael Kulkens, who has campaigned for a ban since his 13-year-old son Tommy-Boy was killed in a bike accident while looking at a phone in 2015, welcomed the change in the law.
“I had to stop my car at the side of the road and the tears welled up in my eyes when I heard on the radio that the ban on the bike is coming,” De Telegraaf newspaper quoted him as saying.
“In my mind, I said: ‘We did it Tommy-Boy. We did it.’”
Cycling is a way of life in the Netherlands, where bikes outnumber people, with an estimated nearly 23 million cycles for some 17 million people.
But while it boasts outstanding infrastructure for cyclists across its flat landscape, the use of mobile phones is a growing hazard, with a smartphone involved in one in five bike accidents involving young people, according to the Dutch Road Safety organization.
Nelly Vollebregt, president of the Dutch road accident victims association, who is herself in a wheelchair after a bike accident caused by a motorist who was looking at a phone, said that 25 percent of the 613 people who died on Dutch roads last year were killed by distractions.
Last year the Dutch town of Bodegraven launched a trial of foot-level traffic lights for pedestrians to prevent them straying into roads or cycle lanes while glued to their mobile screens.