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Female barber: Sexual harassment normal in my profession

Ruby Oseni, 25, is one of the few women in Nigeria whose daring choices of career and lifestyle are changing the usual narratives of what the society expects women to do and be. Her story and that of other successful young entrepreneurs who are making positive changes around the country have become sources of inspiration to other young Nigerians.

These are youngsters that believe one can earn a living through hard work and perseverance. She is fondly called, “Ruby, the mobile lady barber.” Ruby, who read Mass Communication, graduated from the Moshood Abiola Polytechnic (MAPOLY), Ojere, Abeokuta, Ogun State. She knew from the start that she was not the type to go hunting for a white collar job. She knew she had to be different, self-reliant and skilled to survive the tough socioeconomic conditions in Nigeria.

Unlike the conventional barbers who sit in their shops and wait for customers to come, Ruby does not have a shop. A bag, containing her work tools, is her shop. Armed with the bag, she moves from place to place, attending to her ever growing customers. According to her, being a mobile barber comes with a lot of advantages, one of which is that she doesn’t have to pay for rent, electricity, tax or any other levies. She targets public places such as bars, bus stops, markets, parks and recreational centres. These are places she knows she would get as many customers as possible. She also does home services.

The most fascinating thing about this 25-year-old entrepreneur is that, aside from cutting hair, she also does body piercing; dread locking, sales and repair of clippers and accessories. She said: “I started cutting hair in 2017. I started during my Ordinary National Diploma (OND) programme.

At first, I trained myself by watching YouTube videos on how to cut hair, but I later went for a formal training. The training lasted a year, which was during my mandatory one year Industrial Training (IT) period. I chose hair cutting because I just wanted to be different. I like to be unique and independent.

I like something exceptional, which is why I went for hair cutting as a profession. Besides cutting hair, I also talk on the radio. I voice jingles and do voiceovers. But for now, hair cutting pays the bills.” When Ruby started, she was tagged, a “tomboy, stubborn, recalcitrant, wayward and unserious,” a girl who was just going through an identity crisis stage. But Ruby dis-appointed her critics as she stuck to her gut and ignored all discouraging words. “Despite all the discouraging words, I didn’t give up. I forged ahead, and by the time I became a professional barber, some of those that criticised apologised, while others now wished they could be like me.”

Her family at first wanted her to be like other girls in her age group. They had an entirely different plan for her, and allowed her at first to play with her clippers, thinking she would outgrow her strange desire to be a professional barber, but she didn’t. She recalled: “My parents and people around me didn’t approve of a female cutting hair as a profession.

They had rather I go for a completely different profession. They questioned my choice, saying they had rather I do something more feminine. They asked why I couldn’t take to professions like hairdressing, fashion designing, catering and the likes.

Later, when they saw that I was making profit and able to combine it with my studies, my parents changed their minds and started supporting me.” She said that even if she was offered a well-paying job, she would continue to cut hair as a profession. She added: “Haircutting is more of a calling for me than any other thing. Also, I want to be independent. I don’t want to depend on anybody for survival.

Cutting hair has given me courage and boldness. You can be whatever you set out to be. I love being a barber and I’m proud of it. I’m in control of my life and nobody dictates to me.” Asked if hair cutting was more profitable than journalism, Ruby replied: “All jobs are profitable, it depends on the individual and how determined the person is.

What is profitable for me may not be for another person. I won’t say hair cutting is more profitable than a media job, but everything is about determination and focus. “In a week, I used to attend to between 12 to 16 customers. Sometimes, I have more customers than this, depending on how many people need my services. Monthly, I attend to 40 or 45 clients, and I charge between N500 and N10, 000, depending on the hairstyle the customer wants.

I also do dreadlocks and this costs more than the normal haircut.” She further narrated: “I make as much as N150, 000 and N180, 000 in a month, but it also depends on how many customers I’m able to attend to in that month.” Although Ruby admitted that being a female mobile barber comes with a lot of challenges, including sexual advances from male customers, she noted that she could handle such challenges.

She explained: “My relationship with my male customers has not reached a bad level. Surprisingly, it has been so easy, and I want to give God all the glory. Yes, I’m a woman and I’m beautiful, if men do not ask me out, I should begin to seek spiritual deliverance, to find out why. For a man to say he likes me, I think it’s a privilege.

I see sexual advances from men as compliments, and as a businesswoman, I don’t take everything as an offence. A man showing love and affection for me is normal, but it depends on how I handle it. “But these men have never gone beyond their boundaries.

I have not experienced any form of sexual assault before and they only express their love through words. Sexually, I have not had anything to regret about so far and yes, I’ve lost so many customers because I rejected their sexual and love advances. Some clients just want to patronise me because they want to have sex with me, but once I cut their hair the first time, I make sure that the second time would be in open spaces, with people around.” Ruby admitted that because she had refused to yield to the demands of these male clients, they stopped patronizing her. “It will always be like that. It’s normal in this business. I’m just worried about the insecurity in the country.

I don’t want to be a victim of kidnapping and I have been very careful in dealing with people. I always put my safety first. There are some places I don’t go if a client asks me to come,” she stated. She advised other young Nigerians not to rely totally on their education qualification, but to also acquire vocational skills. “I always tell my friends who are not busy to go and get a job or they should go and learn a vocation.

To other young Nigerians, I will tell them to get on their feet and believe in themselves. They shouldn’t be lazy. To others, who expect the government to do everything for them, they should know that the government is not God and the government cannot do everything. They should be able to stand on their own without the government or their parents to survive,” advised Ruby.

Sharing her plans for the future, Ruby said she would like to be an inspiring story for other young Nigerians who like her, experienced disapproval after picking a career. She stated: “As a mobile lady barber, I want to be well known and established.

I want to have a training centre for young people who want to be independent. I want to be internationally known, and I want to be someone a youth will look up to, and say something positive about. I want other young people to aspire to be more successful than I am.”

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