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These Black Women Fought for African Hair Braiding’s Legal Right in Iowa, US

Braiders in Iowa no longer need to get a cosmetology license to plait customers’ hair. Thanks to two Black women who brought a lawsuit against the state with a non-profit public interest law firm, stylists who practice unlicensed braiding will not face jail time. Aicheria Bell and Achan Agit filed and won a civil suit against the midwestern state with the Institute for Justice.

A law enacted July 1, 2016 made braiders exempt from Iowa’s cosmetology licensing laws. Before then, anyone who braided hair without taking 2,100 hours of courses at a cosmetics school – which can cost at least $20,000 – to obtain a license could be subjected to a misdemeanor charge. The citation was punishable by up to one year in prison. Now, braiders will simply need to register with the state.

“I am grateful I can now pursue my passion and support my family without feeling like a criminal,” Bell said in a statement, according to Atlanta Black Star. “This new law opens the door for so many braiders to start and grow their own businesses.”

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Bell began braiding in Georgia and Minnesota before moving to Des Moines. She used the hobby as a means to support her family. In order to continue working in a salon without a license, she made an arrangement with the state cosmology board to only use a comb when doing hair.

Agit and her family fled South Sudan for the United States to avoid civil war. She had hopes of opening her own braiding shop, but upon moving to Des Moines and learning about it being illegal to braid without a license, she decided to only work from her home.

Now that both women have come together to defend the cultural pastime, braiders in Iowa can do hair without being criminalized.

“This is a major victory for African-style hair braiders in Iowa,” attorney Meagan Forbes said in a statement. “The government has no business licensing something as safe and common as hair braiding. These reforms have now put the American dream within reach for braiders across the state.”

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