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Pictures | Thu Nov 15, 2018 | 4:20pm EST

Grappling with taboos, Iraqi women join wrestling squad

Iraqi women, part of the country's first women's wrestling squad, face each other during practice at the sports club in Diwaniya, Iraq November 10, 2018. On the blue mats of the al-Rafideen Club in the conservative city of Diwaniya, some 180 km (110 miles) south of Baghdad, some 30 female wrestlers, some still wearing headscarves, train three times a week. When a big competition comes up, they train every day.

REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani

Iraqi women, part of the country's first women's wrestling squad, face each other during practice at the sports club in Diwaniya, Iraq November 10, 2018. On the blue mats of the al-Rafideen Club in the conservative city of Diwaniya, some 180 km (110...more

Iraqi women, part of the country's first women's wrestling squad, face each other during practice at the sports club in Diwaniya, Iraq November 10, 2018. On the blue mats of the al-Rafideen Club in the conservative city of Diwaniya, some 180 km (110 miles) south of Baghdad, some 30 female wrestlers, some still wearing headscarves, train three times a week. When a big competition comes up, they train every day. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
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Alia Hussein, of Iraq's first women's wrestling squad, exercises during practice at the sports club in Diwaniya. The toughest fight that Hussein ever faced was convincing her family that women should be allowed to grapple. The 26-year-old student was a keen cyclist and basketball player but when she told her family last year that she wanted to try her hand at the physical world of wrestling she was met with abuse. "I was humiliated and even beaten by my family, but I defied them all," Hussein told Reuters. "I feel that I can express myself through this sport. I wanted to prove to society that wrestling is not confined to men only and that Iraqi women can be wrestlers and can win and fight." 

REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani

Alia Hussein, of Iraq's first women's wrestling squad, exercises during practice at the sports club in Diwaniya. The toughest fight that Hussein ever faced was convincing her family that women should be allowed to grapple. The 26-year-old student was...more

Alia Hussein, of Iraq's first women's wrestling squad, exercises during practice at the sports club in Diwaniya. The toughest fight that Hussein ever faced was convincing her family that women should be allowed to grapple. The 26-year-old student was a keen cyclist and basketball player but when she told her family last year that she wanted to try her hand at the physical world of wrestling she was met with abuse. "I was humiliated and even beaten by my family, but I defied them all," Hussein told Reuters. "I feel that I can express myself through this sport. I wanted to prove to society that wrestling is not confined to men only and that Iraqi women can be wrestlers and can win and fight." REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
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Iraqi women practice at the sports club in Diwaniya. In September, Alia Hussein won a silver medal in the 75 kg (165 lb) freestyle category at a regional event in Lebanon and gold at a local tournament in Baghdad. "I faced opposition from my family at the beginning, but after my participation in Baghdad and Beirut tournaments they started to encourage me, thanks God," Hussein said.

REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani

Iraqi women practice at the sports club in Diwaniya. In September, Alia Hussein won a silver medal in the 75 kg (165 lb) freestyle category at a regional event in Lebanon and gold at a local tournament in Baghdad. "I faced opposition from my family...more

Iraqi women practice at the sports club in Diwaniya. In September, Alia Hussein won a silver medal in the 75 kg (165 lb) freestyle category at a regional event in Lebanon and gold at a local tournament in Baghdad. "I faced opposition from my family at the beginning, but after my participation in Baghdad and Beirut tournaments they started to encourage me, thanks God," Hussein said. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
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Iraqi women wrestle during practice at the sports club in Diwaniya. This is the second attempt by the Iraqi Wrestling Federation (IWF) to grow women's wrestling, this time prompted by the threat of a ban by the sport's global body if they didn't. 

REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani

Iraqi women wrestle during practice at the sports club in Diwaniya. This is the second attempt by the Iraqi Wrestling Federation (IWF) to grow women's wrestling, this time prompted by the threat of a ban by the sport's global body if they didn't....more

Iraqi women wrestle during practice at the sports club in Diwaniya. This is the second attempt by the Iraqi Wrestling Federation (IWF) to grow women's wrestling, this time prompted by the threat of a ban by the sport's global body if they didn't. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
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Iraqi women exercise during practice at the sports club in Diwaniya. The first ended when the club in Diwaniya was disbanded in 2012 after complaints from the local community that the sport was in defiance of local traditions and culture.

REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani

Iraqi women exercise during practice at the sports club in Diwaniya. The first ended when the club in Diwaniya was disbanded in 2012 after complaints from the local community that the sport was in defiance of local traditions and...more

Iraqi women exercise during practice at the sports club in Diwaniya. The first ended when the club in Diwaniya was disbanded in 2012 after complaints from the local community that the sport was in defiance of local traditions and culture. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
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Iraqi women wrestle during practice at the sports club in Diwaniya. The IWF has managed to recruit 70 female wrestlers who train at 15 clubs across the country, a spokesman for the body said. Each is entitled to a payment of 100,000 Iraqi dinars ($84) a month, but the money has stopped for the last three months as the IWF invests in a new wrestling hall in Baghdad. Despite the financial offer, recruitment is tough.

REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani

Iraqi women wrestle during practice at the sports club in Diwaniya. The IWF has managed to recruit 70 female wrestlers who train at 15 clubs across the country, a spokesman for the body said. Each is entitled to a payment of 100,000 Iraqi dinars...more

Iraqi women wrestle during practice at the sports club in Diwaniya. The IWF has managed to recruit 70 female wrestlers who train at 15 clubs across the country, a spokesman for the body said. Each is entitled to a payment of 100,000 Iraqi dinars ($84) a month, but the money has stopped for the last three months as the IWF invests in a new wrestling hall in Baghdad. Despite the financial offer, recruitment is tough. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
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Coach Nihaya Dhaher Hussein sits surrounded by female wrestlers in Diwaniya. The 50-year-old school teacher is the driving force behind the burgeoning team in Diwaniya which started in 2016. She drives the squad to practice, trains them and undertakes the dangerous task of convincing families to let their daughters, sisters or wives wrestle.

REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani

Coach Nihaya Dhaher Hussein sits surrounded by female wrestlers in Diwaniya. The 50-year-old school teacher is the driving force behind the burgeoning team in Diwaniya which started in 2016. She drives the squad to practice, trains them and...more

Coach Nihaya Dhaher Hussein sits surrounded by female wrestlers in Diwaniya. The 50-year-old school teacher is the driving force behind the burgeoning team in Diwaniya which started in 2016. She drives the squad to practice, trains them and undertakes the dangerous task of convincing families to let their daughters, sisters or wives wrestle. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
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Iraqi women sit on the bus as they leave the gym after exercises in Diwaniya. "A woman wrestling is alien to our conservative tribal society," she said. "The idea is hard to accept. It was so difficult to attract girls and convince their families. I was threatened myself by a brother of a player who verbally abused me and tried to hit me. It is so difficult to bring them to training and return them to their houses."

REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani

Iraqi women sit on the bus as they leave the gym after exercises in Diwaniya. "A woman wrestling is alien to our conservative tribal society," she said. "The idea is hard to accept. It was so difficult to attract girls and convince their families. I...more

Iraqi women sit on the bus as they leave the gym after exercises in Diwaniya. "A woman wrestling is alien to our conservative tribal society," she said. "The idea is hard to accept. It was so difficult to attract girls and convince their families. I was threatened myself by a brother of a player who verbally abused me and tried to hit me. It is so difficult to bring them to training and return them to their houses." REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
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Women leave the gym after their exercise in Diwaniya. 

REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani

Women leave the gym after their exercise in Diwaniya. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani

Women leave the gym after their exercise in Diwaniya. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
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Iraqi women practice at the sports club in Diwaniya. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani

Iraqi women practice at the sports club in Diwaniya. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani

Iraqi women practice at the sports club in Diwaniya. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
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Iraqi women practice at the sports club in Diwaniya. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani

Iraqi women practice at the sports club in Diwaniya. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani

Iraqi women practice at the sports club in Diwaniya. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
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Iraqi women wrestle during practice at the sports club in Diwaniya. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani

Iraqi women wrestle during practice at the sports club in Diwaniya. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani

Iraqi women wrestle during practice at the sports club in Diwaniya. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
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