Noor Ahmed walks through the opaque doors of Whispers Salon with two little girls trailing behind. Noor started coming to the salon two years ago, and at the time her life looked a lot different. From the outside, she had a lovely family: a husband and two precocious young daughters. But as Noor got to know the friendly women who manicured her nails and cut her hair, she would talk about the second life she was living—the one where, behind closed doors, her husband was growing increasingly violent.
“I’m me and only me now,” Noor says. She explained that, in a final act of violence, her husband had tried to cut her wrists. That’s when she realized that she and her daughters were in grave danger and she ended the marriage.
Shurooq Dhiaa, one of the salon’s owners, chimed in, “Your daughters are more important than your husband. Women can only depend on themselves, not their husbands, not their fathers, not their brothers.”
In a culture where women can easily become isolated, salons offer a unique atmosphere for female support systems to blossom. That’s the foundation from which the salon was built in 2012, when Shahad Munir, 29, approached Shurooq with a proposal. Shahad was just 20 at the time, with a new baby… but she knew that between Shurooq’s 15 years of experience and her own tenacity to succeed, they could be successful salon owners. So they teamed up to create Whispers Salon.
“Here, I’m able to turn off the world around me and focus on what I love,” said Shurooq, who has faced many tumultuous chapters in Baghdad throughout her career.
In 2007, Shurooq’s brother was killed in a missile strike. Later, she lost a second brother during the peak of violence in the sectarian war. Throughout these tragedies, she’s continued to work. “Life goes on,” Shurooq said, “One war ends and another can start. Women kept coming to the salon despite the conflict, so we just had to keep going.”
Shurooq’s daughter Malak Ahmed, 16, now works as a nail specialist at Whispers. Malak said that she feels fulfilled when she’s helping the customers, and a smile emerged on her face as she spoke about her work. “I’m so grateful to my mother for giving me this opportunity,” she said.
Shurooq and Shahad used the $10,000 EDF funding they received to buy a hydrafacial machine and a cosmetic laser, and they hired new employees to operate them. “You have to stay up on current trends and keep your practices relevant,” Shurooq said. In addition to increasing their customer base, it has delighted the owners to provide more jobs for women in their community.
“We’re proud to be able to give opportunities to others,” Shurooq said. “I want the people we teach to really want to learn, and to discover their passion.”