It is an unexpected setting for a beauty salon. We find it tucked away inside a community centre in Al-Hashmi, East Amman. The five women running this new enterprise have heard that we have a male translator with us so we wait outside whilst they quickly put on their headscarves. As we enter the small salon – ‘Sabaya Style’ - there’s an excited buzz. The salon is professionally kitted out with Hollywood-style mirrors around the white walls, with accents of pink from the beauty accessories. The women greet us warmly and offer us cold drinks to stave off the heat.Read more
I start by asking the women how they came to work together. Rawda, aged 41, explains: “We all took a course in cosmetics, hairdressing and nails here at the community centre, that’s how we met. Soon afterwards CARE approached us and asked if we would be interested in forming a group to set up our own business with their support. Thanks to them, our dream has come true and we are all proud of what we have achieved so far.”
Ekhlas, aged 43, continues: “Rawda has the most amount of experience amongst us, she has worked in salons for 25 years, that’s why we chose her as our leader.” Ekhlas herself has only recently started working, she explains: “I have four children aged 13, 15, 19 and 20, so I spent the last 20 years as a homemaker, occasionally cutting the neighbours’ hair to make a little income. Now that the children are growing up and my husband is working abroad, I am free to start my own project. It’s a nice balance between home and work and my husband is ok with that.”
In Jordan, women are usually expected to seek permission from their husband or father if they want to work outside the home. The three other members of the group are much younger - 25-year-old Shatha explains: “For the three of us single ladies our parents didn’t approve at the beginning, and no one in our community, including our friends, supported our idea to set up the salon. Our parents were worried about the long working hours and us being out late. For us in Jordan, it is considered culturally too late for a girl to be leaving work at 6.30pm. We are not free to go to work and come home when we choose. But we’ve worked out a shift system between the five of us and my father picks me up from work.”
Ekhlas also explains that beauty salons can have a bad reputation: “Many years ago, my husband wouldn’t allow me to go to a salon as a customer as he had heard bad things about them. It wasn’t until five years ago that I went to a salon for the first time. When we chose to run the salon from the community centre where we did our training, our families saw that it was a good place to work and they knew we wouldn’t be coming into contact with men.” The women look shocked when I naively ask if it is a woman-only salon - a mixed salon would be out of the question.
As well as the cultural restrictions, there are other barriers the women talk about, such as securing a business loan. Shatha adds: “I originally tried to get a business loan to run a salon from home but I couldn’t guarantee my income and the interest was too high.” Rawda adds: “We were very lucky to have this opportunity to set up the salon in the community centre. If we were to set up a salon outside we would need to pay to be registered and get a licence, the rents outside are nearly triple what we pay here.”
We move on to talk about what it feels like to be business owners. Shatha explains: “When I worked in another salon I knew that I could do a better job than the owner. Now we are the business owners, we are the queens of ourselves! No one can control us and it feels so much better. It’s difficult to be in business, even for a man, as the economic situation is tough. But even though our profit is low we are very happy as we are only just starting out.”
20-year-old Shahd who sits timidly throughout most of the conversation proudly speaks out: “This has been our hobby since we were really young and we have turned that hobby into a profession.”
When I ask the women what advice they would give to other aspiring entrepreneurs, the advice comes thick and fast: Be persistent. Love what you do. Plan well. Improve yourself. Ekhlas sums it up: “If a woman believes she is on the right path, is determined and believes in herself then she will succeed.”
The salon has only been open for a month and they have already done the hair, make-up and nails for a bride, of which they are all very proud. They are now focused on marketing their business in time for their official launch in a week. 18-year-old Amira, with a twinkle in her eye, lifts up her outer robe to reveal the black and pink branded t-shirts they have had made for the launch.
When I ask them about their future aspirations Shatha concludes: “We are willing to learn more so that we can become better and better. We refuse to listen to negativity from the community. We want to have more work, enlarge our salon and have better facilities so that we can all have a better income.” This young woman knows exactly what she wants.
As soon as they realise the conversation is coming to a close their phones come out and they start taking endless selfies. They pose at every angle, all laughing with delight at each and every shot. But this isn’t just frivolous selfie-taking – these are driven business women and they are seeking the best shots for their social media channels.
As told by Emma Langbridge