Conakry hairdressers dispense cut-and-dried contraceptive advice to women

untitled1Fatoumatah Bah is cornered. Sitting in front of a tinsel-ringed mirror in Miskaa Salon, her head is bent forward, two women at work braiding twists into her hair. She will be stuck in the chair for at least three hours.

It is a good moment to pounce. Fatoumatah Kamara, 20, an apprentice hairdresser in a matching skirt and blouse and glinting cherry earrings, sidles up to Bah. She starts to make conversation.

At first, it is the usual hairdresser chatter. What rain we’ve been having, eh? Where are you from? What are you up to this weekend? This is the 20-year-old accountancy student’s second visit to the salon in Guinea’s capital, Conakry.

Soon Kamara’s questions become more personal. Does Bah have a husband? A boyfriend? Then she goes in for the kill. Does she know there are ways of avoiding getting pregnant?

With every manicure, pedicure and hairdo at the Miskaa Salon, clients receive a free treatment: a great deal of contraceptive advice.

Five salons across Conakry have been dispensing family planning advice since 2012, and they have been so successful that the project – the brainchild of Jhpiego, a health organisation associated with Johns Hopkins University in the US – is about to be extended to salons in Guinea’s seven major cities.

In Guinea, which has one of the lowest rates of modern contraceptive use in the world, women have an average of five children. According to UN figures, in 2015 only 7.5% of married or cohabiting women use some form of contraception.

A lot of effort has gone into teaching women in rural Guinea about family planning, but not so much in urban areas. A salon is an excellent place to reach them, so long as it is the right kind of salon.

“It’s better to go where they do braids because that’s what women traditionally want,” says Yolande Hyjazi, Jhpiego’s director in Guinea. “A woman who’s straightening or washing her hair has more money and more access to information.”

Across town from Miskaa, Jumelle Coiffure is trying to turn around clients as fast as possible, largely because the room is impossibly cramped. Jumelle is owned by 32-year-old twins Tata Sylla, wearing a short black and bright green wig, and her sister Mbalia, with long, heavy braids.

“There were a lot of young women getting pregnant around here when they didn’t want to, with lots of kids running after them, and I thought it would be good to teach them how to avoid that. Even my apprentices were getting pregnant,” says Mbalia, making up Aminata Kouma’s face just inside the salon door. Outside, a dozen girls huddle under the dripping overhang of the salon’s tin roof, filing fingernails and tugging at each other’s hair.


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The Guardian

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