Luma Style Salon
The severe impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Iraqi SMEs has not only hit overall employment in the country hard – it is also worsening the gender gap in employment.
A study by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the International Trade Center (ITC) among 900 SMEs across Iraq shows the employment gender gap exhibited at these businesses has widened by a massive 30 percentage points. In February, the ratio of women to men employed averaged 1 to 13. But when the research was conducted at the end of June, this had increased to 1 to 17. The SMEs surveyed also reported a reduction of 27% in full-time employment levels.
Luma Style, a high-end beauty and hair salon in the city of Erbil in northern Iraq, is a woman-owned business and one of the SMEs employing women which were forced to cut its staff numbers due to the impact of the pandemic. The salon – which offers a range of beauty products and treatments like manicures, pedicures, facials, massages, and waxing – was forced to closed in mid-March 2020 and COVID-19 measures aimed at the beauty industry meant it could only reopen near the end of May. Around the world, industries like beauty, hospitality, education, and healthcare – which tend to employ a higher number of women – have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
Luma K., the owner of Luma Style, is Christian – a minority group in northern Iraq – and originally from Karemlesh. The residents of Karemlesh were forced to flee the town when ISIS seized control of it in 2014. Luma started her business in 2017 but says she feared she would be forced to close it permanently when the lockdown measures left it unable to generate any income. Luma’s turnover is likely to be 40% lower this year than in 2019. “Costs accumulated put us under immense pressure at a time when the business did not make any profit. I felt like I would have to close my business at some point,” she says.
Luma was forced to permanently retrench three of her staff members and cut salary payments in half. To make matters worse, she and her family were infected by COVID-19. Thanks to a relief loan from the NII’s COVID-19 SME Support Programme, Luma now believes her business can recover and should be able to breakeven at the end of 2020. “The loan will help me to cover rent, salaries and the cost of raw materials to enable me to continue my business and avert risks at this critical time. I hope to grow my business and make it sustainable in the long run.”
This funding means that Luma Style can continue to employ nine people – eight of whom are women. Luma’s sister, Lobna K., works as a hairdresser at the salon. She financially supports her husband and two young children. She says she hopes to keep working for her sister. “I depend on this job for my livelihood and that of my family.”