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Thursday, 17 October, 2002, 14:25 GMT 15:25 UK
Afghan lipstick liberation
Afghan women laugh in Kabul
Afghan women are enjoying new freedoms
A controversial project plans to provide the women of Afghanistan with a Western beauty school.

Built in Kabul, the parlour will be funded with American money, and will use make-up donated by several top cosmetic companies.

The aim of the school is to train Afghan women not only in the arts of cutting hair and beauty, but also business.

"We have devised a programme from perms and hair colouring through to business book keeping," project worker Patricia O'Connor told the BBC World Service.

Independence

The brainchild of American Aid worker Mary MacMakin, the project aims to raise Afghan women's spirits while instilling a business sense that will eventually lead to financial independence.

"This isn't just about providing lipstick," Ms O'Connor told the Everywoman programme.

Afghan woman
Many women still choose to wear a burka to hide their unfashionable clothing
"These women have been tortured, abused and oppressed.

"To have other women work on them and touch them is a wonderful thing to achieve, but at the same time you can show them ways to gain economic independence."

Professional

With help from cosmetic giants including Revlon and MAC, the initiative aims to open a beauty school in January 2003 inside the compound of the Afghan Ministry of Women's Affairs.

With professional equipment and American instruction, the project hopes to further educate Afghan women who already have an interest in beauty.

"Even in the Taliban era there were underground beauty parlours," Ms O'Connor explained.

"There are now about 15 beauty salons in Kabul, so they've told us that there is need. We are just trying to say, 'Is there a way that we can help you do what you are doing better?'"

Priorities

While most agree that the project's gesture is positive, critics have argued that in a country desperate for basic necessities, beauty products should be a low ranking priority.

"Women in Afghanistan need midwives, then mascara," claimed a spokesperson for the Women's Alliance for Peace and Human Rights in Afghanistan.

However opinion remains divided.

Explaining how many women still choose to wear a burka to hide their unfashionable clothing, Kabul based women's activist Fatima Gaillani reinforced the wider social implications of the project.

"Just because we were 24 years at war does that mean that we are not good enough to be beautiful?" she asked.

"Women do need some self-esteem and this will help these young women to be professional and provide for their homes."

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Patricia O'Connor speaks to Everywoman
"This isn't just about providing lipstick"

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23 Mar 01 | South Asia
27 Jun 01 | South Asia
20 Nov 01 | South Asia
23 Nov 01 | South Asia
08 Dec 01 | South Asia
07 Jul 02 | Country profiles
15 Oct 02 | South Asia
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