The supreme leader of the Taliban’s de facto government, Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, has imposed new restrictions on women’s activities by banning women’s beauty salons across Afghanistan.
According to a letter issued by the Taliban’s Ministry of the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, the Kabul Municipality has been asked to carry out Akhundzada’s verbal order in the capital city whereas provincial directorates of the ministry are commanded to implement the ban in the relevant provinces.
Taliban restrictions since their takeover have caused a substantial decline in the beauty salon industry across the country. Shortly after the seizure of Kabul, women’s beauty salons were spoiled by the Taliban authorities with spray paint to cover posters with female models once used to attract customers.
Outlawing and shutting women’s beauty salons was part of a wide range of measures the Taliban imposed during their previous rule in the 1990s. Months after the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001, beauty salons again sprang up in Kabul and other Afghan cities.
The beauty salon industry has been one of the remaining sources of income for women, providing some women with jobs and their female customers with services. Their impending closure, however, delivers a harsh economic blow to families that rely on them for income.
To find women’s reactions to the order, we approached a number of beauty salons in Kabul. To protect the interviewees’ identities and avoid possible retribution, pseudonyms are used.
Mursal, who owned two beauty salons — one of which was closed immediately after the 2021 takeover by the Taliban — employs 25 women and has been involved in the business for the past 10 years. She was extremely unhappy and deeply uncertain about the future following the new decree.
“Our daily income is highly dependent on working in this beauty salon and every single employee is the sole breadwinner of her family,” said Mursal. “I am the only supporter of my three daughters and a jobless husband, and this beauty salon is the only source of income for my family.”
Sadaf, another beauty stylist, said, “I have been involved in this field for several years. I purchase make-up essentials from Turkey and rent the salon for 600,000 Afghanis [approximately $6,955]. If the Taliban close my beauty salon, I will definitely be drowned in a huge debt and have no other source to pay it.”
The beauty salon industry, in addition to providing for the daily needs of women and their families, has been a long-time dream of most interviewees, who invested time and money to learn this art outside Afghanistan and bring it back to the country.
Mariam, who is a professionally trained hair and makeup stylist, said she learned when she was a refugee. Bringing this art to Afghanistan and training females in this field was her dream.
“I began as a trainee at a beauty salon in Iran. My dream was to have my own beauty salon and have girls share their vocation. Now that I own a beauty salon, the latest order of the Taliban extinguished my dreams and aspirations,” said Mariam.
Zakira, another owner, shared that “I have devoted my entire life to learn this art in Pakistan, invest in this business, and pass it to the new generation of females. But now I and all the artisans are forced to leave their art and sit in the corner of the house like the female employees of the government, NGOs, and students banned from education.”
Some interviewees also touched upon the psychological problems caused by the decree.
Zeynab, the owner of three beauty salons, said, “Since I heard about the decree, I have not slept for three nights. My blood pressure is uncontrollable and I am facing breathing problems. I don’t know what my future will look like.”
Almost all of the interviewees were assured that the Taliban will execute the decree and close women’s beauty salons just as they have barred females from education and shrunk their access to public places. They were, however, hopeful that the international community can convince the Taliban to reverse the decree.
The edict closing beauty salons was widely condemned. The U.N. mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) called on the Taliban in a tweet to halt the edict, warning that the “new restriction on women’s rights will impact negatively on the economy & contradicts stated support for women entrepreneurship.”
Since re-taking control of Afghanistan in August 2021, draconian decrees have been introduced by the Taliban rolling back two decades of human rights progress, despite their initial promises of a more moderate rule than their previous stint in power in the 1990s. The Taliban since have enforced restrictions to limit women’s rights, participation, and activities in society. Girls beyond the sixth grade and over the age of 12 are banned from education. Women are barred from most jobs and public spaces like restaurants, public baths, gyms, and parks, and most recently from working for the United Nations agencies.
If the ban on beauty salons isn’t reversed, women will be sent even further into isolation.