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A Beauty Shop of Her Own

Afghanistan, May 21, 2004

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    Lailuma Aslam Zada made her dream of opening her own beauty shop come true with the aid of a Mercy Corps loan. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps Photo:

Name: Lailuma Aslam Zada
Age: 30 years

Location: Bagh-E-Zanana, Kabul (Afghanistan)

Lailuma has spent much of her life working in beauty salons in Afghanistan and Pakistan as a refugee. But just three months ago, her long held dream of having her own beauty parlor became a reality.

With the opening of the Bagh-E-Zanana Women’s Market and prospects of a loan from Mercy Corps’ microfinance program, Lailuma was finally able to open her own business.

Outside a small, neat salon she proudly posted her sign: “Mahtab Beauty Shop”. Mahtab is a Dari word that means moon, a symbol of great beauty in Afghanistan. Inside the shop, Lailuma and her assistant are busy giving haircuts, facials, makeovers and an assortment of beauty treatments to an ever-growing list of regular customers.

“The business is doing better day-by-day,” says Lailuma. “At first not many women knew about this new market just for women, but word has started to spread and business is really growing.”

The recently opened Bagh-E-Zanana Women’s Market has begun to change the lives of many women in Kabul. For the first time in decades, women have a place where they can go to without having male chaperones and where they can run businesses and sell their products and services to other women. In Afghanistan, conservative cultural norms prevent most women from going out alone or transacting business with men who are not immediate family members.

Mercy Corps’ loan officers in Kabul have focused on offering small business loans to the female entrepreneurs starting businesses in Bagh-E-Zanana as part of its microfinance program.

Although her business is just starting, Lailuma is already thinking about the future. “I want to start doing some advertising to get more customers and then open up branches all over Kabul,” she says. “But first, I want to buy a car with the money I make.”