Afghanistan: Thousands of beauty salons close near Taliban-imposed deadline

Thousands of beauty salons across Afghanistan permanently closed on Tuesday, with an order to that effect from Taliban officials going into effect, depriving women of one of their rare sources of income and one of their last vestiges of freedom.

Since returning to power in August 2021, the Taliban have banned women from most secondary schools, universities and public administration, barring them from entering parks, gardens, sports halls and public bathrooms, and forcing them to wear full clothes when leaving their homes.

The decision, announced in a decree published at the end of June, is meant to close thousands of beauty salons run by women across the country, depriving them of the only source of income for their families and one of the last places they could meet freely outside their homes, where they are increasingly confined.

“We used to come here and spend time discussing our future. Now even that right has been taken away from us,” said Bahara, a customer at a Kabul salon.

She continues, “Women are not allowed to enter entertainment venues, so what can we do? Where can we have fun? Where can we meet?”

Thousands of women who worked in the administration have already lost their jobs or are paid to stay at home after the Taliban came to power.

According to Afghanistan’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry for Women, the ban on beauty parlors will result in an additional 60,000 women working in 12,000 establishments losing their income.

As of Tuesday, many salons in Kabul had already closed, while others waited until the last minute to do so.

One owner said she was forced to sign a letter stating she was voluntarily closing her establishment and giving up her license to operate.

“It was a terrible sight: they arrived with military vehicles and guns,” he said on condition of anonymity. “What can a woman do in the face of such insistence and pressure?”

– excessive amount –

Last week, security forces fired in the air and used water cannons to disperse dozens of Afghan women protesting against the decree in Kabul.

A few days after the announcement of the decree, the Ministry for the Prevention of Evil and the Promotion of Virtue confirmed the measure, specifying that the salons had one month until Tuesday to close to give them time to sell their stock.

They justified its closure by the fact that exorbitant sums were spent at the salon for weddings, it was considered too heavy a burden for poor families, and by the fact that some of the treatments offered did not respect Islamic law.

The ministry pointed out that wearing too much makeup on the face prevents women from ablution properly before prayer, as well as wearing false eyelashes and braids is also prohibited.

A written copy of the decree seen by AFP said the decision was based “on verbal instructions from Hibatullah Akhundzada, the Supreme Leader of Afghanistan”.

Beauty salons proliferated in Kabul and major Afghan cities during the 20 years of occupation by US and NATO forces, before the Taliban returned to power.

They were considered safe places for women to meet in the absence of men and also enabled many women to set up their own businesses.

In a report presented at the end of June to the UN Human Rights Council, Richard Bennett, the special envoy for Afghanistan, estimated that the situation for women and girls in the country was “one of the worst in the world”.

Mr Bennett assured, “serious, systematic and institutional discrimination against women and girls is at the heart of the Taliban’s ideology and power”.

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