What the Taliban’s beauty salon ban means for Afghan women

In early July, the Taliban ordered the closure of beauty salons and gave salon owners given a month to close their doors.

Beauty salons were also ordered to close when the Taliban was last in power, between 1996 and 2001, but many reopened after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan. Many remained open even after US forces withdrew from the country in 2021 and the Taliban regained power. They provided women with jobs, services, and a community space to meet and connect with other women – spaces that are already hard to come by for Afghan women. It’s estimated that these closures will result in a loss of around 60,000 jobs (the majority of which are women), cutting off their income and a way for them to be financially independent.

This August marks two years since the Taliban came into power again and the beauty salon ban is the latest in a long line of restrictions imposed upon Afghan women, including barring women from employment (including the United Nations), education, and public spaces such as gyms and parks. The Taliban also mandated that women should be modestly dressed in a way that only reveals their eyes, and must be accompanied by a male relative when travelling more than 48 miles.

“This news is devastating as beauty salons were one of the last areas where women could work. In a country where so many are widowed, this will leave many women unable to provide for themselves or their families. It simply adds to the millions of Afghans facing hunger and starvation and are yet more dependent on aid to simply survive,” Zehra Zaidi, a campaigner with Action for Afghanistan told Dazed.

This aid has also now become more restricted with the UK government cutting their foreign aid budgets this year, which an internal civil service report has revealed has meant Afghanistan has faced a 76 per cent cut in aid. The report also found that due to these cuts will “potentially leave some of the most vulnerable women and girls in the world without critical services.” These cuts are currently planned to continue until at least 2024, according to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Kevin Schumacher, deputy executive director of Women for Afghan Women, also explained to Dazed why the move to close beauty salons will disproportionately affect Afghan women. “The Taliban authorities don’t consider Afghan women worthy of any social or economic space, nor tolerate their bodily autonomy, from their choice of dress to their hairdo preferences,” he says. “This move is a collective punishment against every Afghan woman, and a preemptive measure against all girls and women.”

Both Schumacher and Zaidi also see these closures as not only negatively impacting women’s freedom and independence but also their ability to access care and community. “The closure means the end of one of the few public spaces where Afghan women could safely get together to talk about their dreams, their hopes, and their common pains and suffering,” Schumacher says. Zaidi adds that salons were the “last havens for sisterhood and community” and this decision is the Taliban attempting to “break the resistance of women who have the main bulwark of protest against them.”

“The closure means the end of one of the few public spaces where Afghan women could safely get together” – Kevin Schumacher

And that’s exactly what Afghan women have been doing: resisting. Since the announcement in early July, women have been taking to the streets in Afghanistan to protest the closures and the wider restrictions on their freedoms. Protestors were met with fire hoses, tasers, and guns by security forces whilst women chanted “work, bread, and justice”. Zaidi highlights how brave these women are and the risks they’re taking to push back on restrictions, especially when the Taliban has been known to arrest and imprison activists.

However, the international community must also do more to support Afghan women in their fight for liberation and freedom. Zaidi argues that these restrictions should be investigated as crimes under international law, which a recent Amnesty report into women’s lives in Afghanistan also backed. “This isn’t a horror show where onlookers are simply helpless. Afghan women must be listened to and that means being included and properly listened to at international gatherings, such as the United Nations.”

Schumacher echoes this, saying the Taliban has turned Afghanistan into the “biggest prison for women,” which has been met with “little resistance from the international community”. He urges the public to not forget about Afghan women and to uplift and amplify their voices as they continue to resist and fight the Taliban. Beauty salons may be the latest space taken away from Afghan women but their resistance to oppression continues, and the international community must also continue to stand in solidarity with their struggles.

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