First woman working at the barbers of Babylon shrugs off abuse

by Reuters
Thursday, 10 September 2020 16:04 GMT

An Iraqi hairdresser wearing a protective face mask cuts the hair of a customer at a men's barber shop amid the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19), in the city of Hilla, Iraq September 7, 2020. REUTERS/Alaa al-Marjani

Image Caption and Rights Information

Ignoring cat-calls and insults, Um Zeinab is the first woman in southern Iraq to make a living cutting men's hair

HILLA, Iraq, Sept 10 (Reuters) - Um Zeinab says she suffered insults and verbal abuse when she started walking to work at the men's barber shop and tattoo parlour in the bustling capital of Iraq's Babylon province.

But she persevered, ignored the cat-calls and started building up her own group of regular customers - an unprecedented achievement in a very masculine world.

Now, as far as she knows, she is the first woman in southern Iraq to make a living cutting men's hair.

"I am part of society, I am like any other woman. I went out to work, to support my family," she said in the Hook Centre for Hair in the city of Hilla.

Every day she climbs up the salon's neon-lit staircase and starts working, her head covered in a conservative veil and her face covered in a mask against the coronavirus.

The mother of two young daughters also does tattoos and offers skin care regimes.

"When I sit with my girlfriends I tell them you should not just sit at home," said the 32-year-old. "Go out, work, women are equal to men. And right now there are not many work opportunities. So I wanted to help my family."

The salon's owner, Sadiq Wila, said some locals complained when he took her on, but he ignored them.

"Why are we, here in Iraq, not letting women live up to the very important role they should play in society?" Wila said.

(Reporting by Ahmed Saeed, writing by Charlotte Bruneau and Amina Ismail, Editing by Andrew Heavens)