Azerbaijan’s Segregated Salons
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Beauty parlors are part of Azerbaijan’s popular culture. They dot villages and towns, ranging from simple, single rooms to flashy, larger salons, and provide services ranging from a manicure to a chat over tea, from a haircut to a discussion about politics. They are, however, strictly gendered.

Male-dominated and patriarchal, Azerbaijani society also separates men and women’s personal care. Unwritten social norms have it that each sex would go to its “dedicated” salon. Yet, slowly, some people, like Baku hairdresser Ulviyya Rzayeva, are challenging this attitude.

The 28-year-old has been running her beauty salon in downtown Baku for five years and is open for business to male customers as well. They come to her salon mainly  for hair or tattoo-removals.  

In the capital’s suburbs, however, salons remain gender-segregated and men and women move within their own kingdoms of vanity.

 

A young man poses in front of a tiny barber shop in Baku’s Yamasal district.
“Mixed salons are not acceptable. Husbands are jealous, and women only relax in front of women, not in front of men. Personally, I do not mind using gender-segregated salons," says one woman in a Baku salon.
A women-only beauty salon exhibits artificial hair for extensions.
A salon in downtown Baku’s Akhundov Garden. As she awaits customers, the cosmetologist turns to her cell phone for some virtual social interaction.
A cat peeps through the window of an all-male hairdressing salon in the outskirts of Baku.
Naila, a beauty salon in the outskirts of Baku, uses the image of a bride -- often seen as Azerbaijani women’s ultimate life goal -- to market its services for female customers. The services range from haircuts and styling to tailoring and assistance for brides.
This female-only salon, advertising for an experienced hairdresser, is situated in a building painted the color stereotypically associated with women.
Ulviyya Rzayeva, 28, has been running her mixed-gender Baku beauty parlor for five years. It is one of the few salons for women where male customers are not unusual.
Ulviyya Rzayeva owns a beauty salon in Baku’s central Akhundov Garden. The 28-year-old notices that mixed beauty salons like hers are starting to be more common around Baku’s city center.
A female beauty salon in the center of Baku also offers hairdressing for men.
Ayan, a hairdresser, embroiders between clients in an all-female salon.
“I never thought of salons as gender-divided,” says 25-years-old Lazim, the only employee in this one-room, male-only hairdresser salon in Baku’s Yasamai district. “[Yet] I never did any female haircuts. I think women cannot be in the same salon with men because of our [society’s traditional] mentality.”
A large image of Jennifer Lopez and an arrow indicates the way to a women-only beauty salon in Baku.
A men-only barber shop in the outskirts of Baku
A hairdresser in Baku’s Yamasal district poses with an illustration of a popular haircut for men.
In this small barber shop in Baku’s Yamasal district, home to a sizable population of displaced people from Nagorno Karabakh, the barber, who has a hearing disability, uses gestures to communicate with his male customers.
At this hairdresser’s on Baku’s pedestrian Nizami Street, an image of President Ilham Aliyev flanks a broadcast of fashion shows.
A men’s salon on downtown Baku’s Nizami Street. The Russian slogan on the poster reads “Only the best things for men.”
A men-only hairdresser on Nizami Street in Baku
Several years ago, the online Azerbaijani publication Day.az warned that hygeine standards can vary sharply in Baku salons -- using one smock per customer, for instance, can be seen as an unnecessary “luxury.”
Salons are never short of tea. Barbers and hairdressers alike will always find time to have a cup and offer one to their customers as well.
Billed as a “male salon,” hairdresser Samir used online photos of haircuts for this advertisement near Baku’s Gara Garayev subway station.

Audio Transcript: 

Ulviya Rzayeva: “I have been working since 13 years old. Now I am 30. It is ok if the salons are mixed. There are many mixed salons in Baku now, around 70%.  People in salons changed. Clients became aggressive, the requirements increased. Before we worked on shifts, and now we work full day with one day vacation per week.

Lyaman: "Why salons are segregated? It is not acceptable in our society if women are together with men in the same salon. When it is only women salon, then they are more free and relaxed, they can take off their clothes but with men no. I personally accept it normally, but not the society. Men don’t like and agree if their woman sits next to a stranger.  I personally don’t mind.”

 

Chai Khana
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