Zahra Qasemi has a personal story that is sadly not too uncommon, but she has used her past to fuel her passion for progress as an empowered business owner. Zahra was raised in Iran as a refugee, which made it extremely difficult for her to continue her education. She was married at the age of 16 to a man with strict worldviews that ultimately ended the continuation of her education altogether. Her daughter was born a year into the marriage, and for six years, she faced abuse at the hands of her husband. Both her family and the surrounding society heavily condemned divorce, but Zahra knew that an official separation was the only way to create a better future for her daughter and for herself.  

It wasn’t an easy option but eventually Zahra was granted a divorce and given custody of her child. She began working as an embroiderer while studying and completing her final year of high school. As soon as she completed high school, Zahra enrolled in university for her business administration degree. Upon completion of her degree, she came to the realization that it was time to move back to Afghanistan and build a new life. 

Zahra returned to Afghanistan empty handed, but she persistently applied for jobs and eventually was offered a position at Afghanistan Public Policy Research Organization (APPRO) as a researcher and coordinator. She traveled throughout the Afghan provinces and participated in many hands-on projects related to women’s issues. Though Zahra excelled at work, she also faced the stigma that came from being a young, single, and divorced mother. Determined to prove that she could work just as smart as any of her male counterparts, she enrolled for her MBA.

Alongside her position at APPRO, Zahra started her own business, Giwa Beauty Salon. Her salon offers women’s health, beauty and cosmetics services. Zahra and her team of four strive to provide multiple services under the same roof while creating a safe, accepting, and educational environment for women. Giwa has an in-home service option because they understand that women of conservative families still face issues and that sometimes even stepping outside of the home is risky business. Zahra pledges to use the best of her abilities to see a future for Afghanistan where women are respected as equals. Her goal is to gain the knowledge she needs to expand her business within the next five years so that she and her colleagues may reach out to more women. She also wants to help train and employ women so they can become independent and escape violent domestic situations.

In her free time Zahra likes to hike and play guitar. Her daughter is first in her high school classes and after hearing Zarha’s story it’s easy to assume she will carry the same dedication, perseverance and courage that is demonstrated in her mother.