Dafroza barbers a girl
Dafroza working at the barbershop in her village.

The first barber girl

By Kisuma Mapunda, Communications and Public Engagement Manager

It’s very unusual to find a girl working as a barber in rural Tanzania, because cultural norms strongly discourage girls from doing this job. But there are some girls, like Dafroza, who dare to break the cultural taboos. She is 15 years old and the fourth of ten children in her family. She lives in Mvugwe village in the Kigoma region in northwestern Tanzania.

She is a registered child in World Vision’s Buhoma Area Programme, in the district of Kasulu. She told us that it was her own interest to become a barber that led her to become the first girl cutting hair in the village.

Whenever I went to cut my hair, I admired the barbers and how they used the shaving machine. I wanted to be just like them, and since my father had a shaving machine, I started by shaving my little brother’s hair at home.

Word spread fast when her brothers told people that their hair had been cut by their sister. Some of their neighbors started to take their children to her. Dafroza wanted to learn more, so she asked her father if she could go to work at the barbershop. Due to cultural norms, her father refused her request.

“I was shocked when Dafroza said that she wanted to become a barber. I wondered where she got this idea of working around a lot of boys, which seems inappropriate. I was very reluctant, but she kept on insisting,” recalls her father.

Due to health issues, Dafroza dropped out of school. Eventually her father decided to support her ambition because he could see that was what she really wanted to do. He asked Kennedy Thomas, the barbershop owner in the village, to teach his daughter for six months.

After six months training, she proved how useful she could be, and Kennedy employed her.

She can handle the machine well and her customers are very happy with her. At first it seemed impossible for the community to accept a barber girl, but now, here we are!

Dafroza is among 113 youth who participated in life skills training conducted by our area programme in Buhoma. It was during this training that she began at Kennedy's barbershop. The area programme supported her dream by paying the barbershop owner US$80 to help fund her practical training at the shop.

Sadly, Dafroza still encounters some challenges from men. Some of them come to the shop out of sexual interest in her rather than for her service as a barber. “As a girl, one of the challenges of this work is disturbance from men. They want to take advantage of me, some try to touch me. Sometimes women are not happy to see me shave their husbands, but gradually everyone has been accepting my service,” explains Dafroza.

Kennedy acts as a guardian for Dafroza and plays a key role in protecting her rights. “I get angry whenever young boys and men show sexual interest in her. I also talk to her about the risks,” explains Kennedy.

A barbershop of her own

Now Dafroza is determined to open her own barbershop in the village because she has seen potential to earn a living and has started earning money to support herself. She also helps her siblings out with money whenever she can. She earns US$2 to $5 per day.

“I am benefiting from what Dafroza is doing,” says her older sister Abelia. “Several times I have asked her to help me with some money when I don’t have anything with me.”

This was all possible because of support from Dafroza’s parents. Her mother, Mainess, explained: “As a mother, it’s easy to understand your child’s feelings and attitudes. I trust Dafroza, and I know she can take good care of herself."

Her father explained the challenge of changing gender norms: “Most of my peers thought I was wrong for exposing her to boys and said that I will ruin her life. They asked if I was aware of the implications of her working in the barbershop."

But I just answered them by saying, that’s what she believed in.

Against all odds, Dafroza has found success in her village. By believing in herself, she has proven to be a very determined girl. Now, through Buhoma AP, we are working to support her in achieving her dream of having her own barbershop, which is estimated to cost US$1,000.