Eman – Salon owner in Hamrun

A strong and confident woman, Eman is rebuilding her life in Malta with determination and her very own business.

Eman standing proud at her salon.

Eman stands in the middle of her newly-relocated hair and make-up salon in Hamrun. She has moved merely a stone’s throw away from her previous shop, but this one is better; more light, more space, and more customers, hopefully. Back in Libya she built a career around journalism and design, but here in Malta, she is looking to pursue a career linked with another passion of hers; ‘making people feel beautiful’, as she puts it. Her shop is for women only, a space where clients can chit-chat and talk about personal issues in a welcoming environment, whilst getting their hair or make-up done. What makes it even more special is that it is the only one of its kind within the locality.

We ask her what she likes about her profession. “Many, many things,” she replies, with the help of an interpreter. Her body language presents her as confident and head-strong. She laughs out loudly frequently; that type of laugh which makes you laugh, even when you do not understand the joke. “I’ll tell you, (when a customer) comes to my salon and changes her style, and she starts to feel happy about that, you know, this makes me really happy as well. When I see this happiness in the eyes of my customer I feel really happy and proud of myself!”

She is close to fluent in Maltese, but the translator is there so that Eman, a Libyan national, can express herself more comfortably in her mother tongue.

Eman has been living in Malta since 2015 and has, like many other refugees and migrants here, lived through a beginning which was tough. Migrant Women Association Malta helped make Eman’s experience in Malta better, as she found herself meeting people who she can relate to, making her feel less alone in her circumstances where it was hard to get up on her own two feet and fit in the society she found herself in.

Her salon feels like home for the Arab community, who enjoy a sense of familiarity in visiting Eman’s shop. “This was a strong point for me,” she said. “(The clients say) that we feel like we’re in our homeland.”

Eman has Maltese clients too. Some are surprised at her knowledge of the Maltese language, which Eman claims to have learnt in merely three months, by mingling with elderly locals. She believes that her Maltese clients choose her services because of a natural hair treatment done within Arabic culture, which is not so common in Malta.

Maltese women who entrust Eman with their hair are mostly elderly women, and having them choosing her has helped her feel more integrated to an extent. She even has an elderly Maltese neighbor who occasionally takes food over to Eman’s house.

On the other hand, Eman speaks of the “younger” women in the street, who walk past her without a blink of acknowledgement. “Old ladies are surely friendlier than the young. My elderly neighbor used to bring me food sometimes. The younger women don’t look at me, they don’t care about me. Sometimes they look at me badly,” she said. Eman adds that she thinks migrant men have a much easier time to integrate than migrant women.

 

Eman’s position as a business owner is not the norm amongst the female refugee and migrant community. Due to various barriers, most work in cleaning services, and illegal employment is common. “Some more educated women maybe find it easier to find work, but others, still ‘fresh’ or new to this environment still do not know what to do in this society. They are also scared to communicate with men… there are some women who never spoke to strangers, or to men (other than family members) before they came to Malta.” She suggests that this cultural factor may be one of the reasons as to why men find it easier to find work. However, wearing a hijab is also a hindrance, as it can inspire hostility. In their recent encounters with refugee women, UNHCR have noted that some have had negative experiences when working or looking for employment, especially because of discrimination towards women for wearing a hijab.

Eman’s dream for the future is merely to excel in her business. She credits her mother, a teacher by profession, for instilling in her the priority to be independent, and to take pride in education and work. For Eman, her beauty salon is a source of empowerment.

“You have more freedom when you open your own business, I’m in control” she smiled.

This article originally featured in the Malta Independent on International Women’s Day 2018.