Beauty Parlours: Gender blind, gender ameliorative or gender-transformative?

Coming from India, when asked to evaluate livelihood activities I used to wonder why development agencies introduced beauty parlours.  After all, do not they not promote stereotypes that women should be 'beautiful' in the eyes of men. I used to ask agencies why do not you promote non traditional activities for women like driving, two wheeler mechanic, masonry etc.

The women who run these parlours explained to me

"Madam I get good income, more than by working in a super market. My household's basic needs are met, I am independent. My husband shouts less at me.  I agree women should not become commodities, but we can look good for ourselves too, no?

When I went to another place, there was opposition to poor women being trained as beautician in some districts. The opposition came from male traditional leaders, say beautification was against their religion. That is the activity became transformative, challenging authority of men in power over marginalised women. 

Thus evaluations need to keep context in mind during evaluations. Global checklists do not work. Evaluations also need to see the benefit to women, beyond the activity. Perspectives and lens of women matter!.



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Comment by Ranjani K.Murthy on May 11, 2016 at 17:38

Interesting, Vimala. It would be interesting to track the boys and girls' trajectories after they finished the beautician course.


Comment by Vimala Ramachandran on May 11, 2016 at 9:55

What is indeed interesting is that in 2 schools of Telengana (Model Schools) - while majority of students taking this course were girls, there were 5 boys in one school and 3 in another...

Comment by Ranjani K.Murthy on May 11, 2016 at 9:31

Thanks Vimala and Rituu. Yes, economic reasons for beautician training are important. I wish it were offered to male youth as well- as men go to beauty parlours too. I never realised that it had a radical connotation till it was banned by some male leaders in an area in South Asia. Thanks 


Comment by Rituu B Nanda on May 10, 2016 at 10:02

Yes, context is extremely important. Have facilitated both baseline as well as endline of a vocational training and livelihoods programme for girls and women. In this programme- beauty and culture was a popular course. However how many took it up as a vocation was another story. In rural areas, the girls said that not many in the village availed the services and what the villagers were ready to pay was peanuts. The option for the girls was to go to the city for work which their parents or husband often did not 'permit'. In case of semi-urban and urban areas we saw many of the girls and women take it up as a profession. It translated to economic independence and many could send their children to school and as they worked from home they did not need care and support for their children. Those who did could not set up their own beauty parlours often provided the services through visits within the neighbourhood. What about the literacy levels of the girls? Did it effect their work? one of the trainer said that basic literacy is important to read the labels of different cosmetics etc. However there was case of girl who can't read and write but from the photo on the cosmetic box buys and uses it on her clients. She is supposed to be very good at her work. 

Comment by Vimala Ramachandran on May 9, 2016 at 16:01

I agree with Ranjani. As long as the training leads to a steady and independent business, it is valuable. One needs to look at the context - including opportunities that exist in the area the women live in. I had a similar experience looking at vocational training in classes 9 to 12 - most schools in Telengana were offering beauty and wellness (including nutrition, yoga etc.) There is a huge marker for trained women - they said..

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