Iraq: “We need to expand our business”

In August 2014, hundreds of thousands of people were forced to flee from the Sinjar mountains when armed groups attacked the region. Zubaida and Jihan are both graduates of a CARE job training program, participating in a training course for hairdressers at the CARE office in Talafar. Credit: Johanna-Maria Fritz/ CARE. 

Perfectly styled eyebrows, long eyelashes and red lips – Zubaida Muhammad Sadiq and Jihan Falah Wali are the best publicity for themselves. Together Zubaida and Jihan founded and still run Limar a hair and beauty salon in Talafar, a city with 200,000 inhabitants in the North-West of Iraq. The name of their salon, Limar, is Arabic and translates into shine or glow which says it all.

“Most of our customers get their eyebrows styled and their hair colored,” Zubaida says. “A very dark brown with lighter brown highlights, that's the most popular style at the moment, blonde is becoming a trend too.” “But what really makes us different from other beauty salons in the region, is our makeup artistry,” Jihan adds. A beautifully highlighted mouth and accentuated eyes, a flawless light skin colour – that is the classic beauty ideal in the region.”

Zubaida, 35, wearing a black headscarf, plaid shirt, loose black pants, and Jihan, 21, in a dark green headscarf, figure-hugging, high-necked blouse and long, dark green skirt, opened Limar just a few weeks ago. The beauty salon is a narrow room on the first floor of an apartment building, on the left a wall of shelves with two mirrors, in them coloring and styling products, brushes, hair straighteners, makeup brushes. There are two hairdressing chairs, a sink, a small sofa, a small table with fashion magazines. On display along the walls are pictures of women in dazzling wedding dresses with opulent makeup, artfully pinned-up hair, above the mirrors are two certificates in gold frames attached to the wall – the training certificates of the two entrepreneurs.

Zubaida and Jihan are both graduates of a CARE job training program. In Iraq, vocational training is unusual. Those who choose a certain profession start immediately and learn everything necessary on the job. That is not any different for hairdressers. Two months ago, the two women took part in a training course for hairdressers at the CARE office in Talafar and since then both of them have been trained by a seasoned owner of a beauty salon.

First, the existing skills of the participants were assessed in a placement test, then the 20 participants learned new hair cutting and makeup techniques which they needed to give proof of in a final exam. “I had taken a hairdressing course before,” Zubaida says. “But this training was different. I never learned so much before, it was very intense and demanding. Still, I had a lot of fun.” The CARE vocational program included four options: hairdressing and tailoring courses for women as well as hairdressing and electrician courses for men. Zubaida always knew what she wanted to learn. “Doing hair and makeup has always fascinating for me, both have been my hobbies for years,” she adds. “But if you want to become a professional, you need professional training.”

Zubaida’s and Jihan's vocational training course is part of a CARE program to improve the economic situation in Northern Iraq which is dire. During the conflict in 2003, thousands fled their hometowns because of bombing and violence, and in 2014, people fled because of terrorist attacks which ravaged the region and made Tal Afar one of its strongholds. Large parts of the city are still in ruins, the economy is devastated, and there is basically no private sector. “With the job trainings, we want to support people who have been displaced and living in other areas since 2014 and are now returning to their hometowns,” says Wendy Barron, Country Director for CARE in Iraq. “At the same time, we also aim to empower host communities where families who have been internally displaced for years continue to live.”

Zubaida and Jihan also received initial equipment for the salon from CARE, but the rent is paid by themselves. The salon opens at 9:30 am and closes its doors at 8pm. Jihan lives with her parents, she is not married. Zubaida and her husband who is a teacher live together with their four children. During the day, Zubaida’s husband and her oldest daughter take care of the household and the younger children. “All I wish for my three daughters is that they find a profession they love,” Zubaida says. “Just like I love my profession.” If it weren't for CARE's training course, what would she have chosen? Zubaida laughs. “Without the course, I would be sitting at home right now doing nothing.”

A customer is waiting in the doorway, and Jihan is preparing hair color and makeup supplies. “We want to expand the salon as soon as possible,” Zubaida says, while tying a protective cape around the neck of a customer. “Manicures and pedicures need to be added to our service. For that, of course, we need more employees. It's clear to me that we have to expand. With a complete program from head to toe, we will finally be unique and Limar will stand far above other in the competition.”

About CARE:

CARE is an international aid agency working in over 100 countries worldwide, placing women and girls at the heart of what we do. In Iraq, CARE supports internally displaced people and host communities with water supply, the maintenance of sanitation facilities and waste management. Women are supported with hygiene packages, trainings and education programs where they learn to set-up their own businesses such as Zubaida and Jihan. CARE also trains midwives, supports pregnant and lactating women with medical advice and hygiene packages.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, CARE has been supporting clinics in Iraq with PCR testing facilities, personal protective equipment and trainings for medical professionals. To date, CARE has reached over 520,000 people in Iraq.