Driving around Kabul, I’m struck by the number of beauty parlors and internet cafes that are mushrooming around the city. In every corner you can find an “arayeshga” (beauty parlor) or internet cafй. These new fixtures of Afghan society are big business and a testament to the changing face of Afghanistan after the restrictive reign of the Taliban. They also reflect interesting trends in women’s development and entrepreunership.
The beauty business is huge in Afghanistan. Most women will go to a beauty parlor to get their hair and face done for weddings. This is long and arduous affair that takes the whole day and costs the equivalent of $200. It also involves an array of makeup and massive amounts of hairspray. A beautiful bride is one whose hair doesn’t move an inch and whose face is as white as chalk (Afghans would poetically say the moon). Most brides are also accompanied by sisters, cousins, aunts and friends. All of them will also get made up and the parlor will charge $6-10 for each one of them. Interestingly enough, the groom will pay for all of this. In Afghanistan, a groom’s family usually pays to get a bride.
From one wedding party, a parlor can easily make about $500. If the parlor is well-known it can easily get three to five wedding parties in a week. That’s $1500 to $2500 a week and $6000 to $10,000 a month. Even if you subtract overhead and supplies, one can still earn a pretty living. It’s not surprising then that most women are drawn to the business. It’s better than the alternative of sewing, the only other business opportunity that seems to be open to women.
Internet cafes are also good business. Many young Afghans, men and women, who lived as refugees in Pakistan and Iran had access to computer and internet technology which was easily accessible and cost-effective. They brought this interest with them to Afghanistan and have contributed to the rise of the internet business in Afghanistan. However, I have yet to see a cafй that is owned by a woman. Females will frequent the cafes and are interested in furthering their computer knowledge, but I rarely see one managing a net cafe. I think this is an opportunity that is being overlooked by the international community. Beyond the sewing, baking or poultry co-ops that have been started by many NGOs, I think it would be great to have some internet cafes that are owned by a women’s co-op.
Internet porn, which is as prevalent in Afghanistan as elsewhere, and the male-dominated spaces of the internet cafй often make it restrictive for women to frequent the cafes as often as they would like. By opening some cafes that restrict internet porn and create a more user-friendly space for women, a need could be met and additional business opportunities created for women beyond the avenues traditionally open to them.
Posted By Shirin Sahani (Afghanistan)
Posted Jul 10th, 2005