DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — In a private gym tucked away in the warren of villas in the ritzy Jumeirah district here, Amna Al Haddad, a 22-year-old, adjusted her head scarf, bent to a dumbbell rack and jerked 100 pounds, roughly her body weight, into the air.
“I can lift a boy up,” she said.
Al Haddad is one of 12 women who train as competitive weight lifters in the United Arab Emirates, combating the stigma of lifting as a “man’s sport” in the Arab country, whose local population — despite the presence of bikini-clad foreigners for decades — holds to its conservative Muslim tradition.
Weight lifting is often confused with bodybuilding in the Emirates and women who take part are often seen as masculine, or lesbian, which is a crime in the U.A.E.
“A lot of women say, ‘Wow, look at her body,’ ” Al Haddad said. “They ask me how to get lean, and when I say I weight lift, they get scared. But it’s the 21st century now. I don’t want to get married until I make the Olympics.”