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The Taliban Tightens Grip on Afghan Women, Closing Beauty Salons

Published August 8, 2023
Published August 8, 2023

Since the Taliban, a predominantly Pashtun, Islamic fundamentalist group, seized control of Afghanistan in 2021, women’s freedoms have steadily decreased, and the latest move to ban beauty salons has come as a particular blow. On July 2, the Taliban announced that beauty salons had a month to close up business, in a move similar to the one declared in 1996, which saw beauty salons in the country closed until 2001 when American troops arrived. Since regaining power in 2021, the Taliban have barred girls and women from classrooms, gyms, parks, and working in public office, and decreed that all women should dress in a way that only reveals their eyes and they must be accompanied by a male relative if they are traveling over 72 kilometers.

The Taliban closed beauty salons across the region because, according to them, beauty salons offer services that violate Islam. The list of offending services includes eyebrow shaping, the use of other people’s hair to augment a woman’s natural hair, and the application of makeup. The latter they claim interferes with the ablutions required before offering prayers.

It’s predicted that the beauty salon ban will lead to 60,000 women losing jobs and 12,000 beauty businesses being closed down. Since the announcement, women protested outside beauty salons shouting “work, bread, and justice,” and were met with Taliban guards using water cannons and stun guns in order to disperse crowds. This rare sign of public opposition to the Taliban has emphasized the importance that these beauty salons hold for Afghan women. The Taliban’s use of force during this protest drew criticism from the United Nations mission in Afghanistan, which shared on Twitter, “Afghans have the right to express views free from violence. De facto authorities must uphold this.”

By closing salons, the Taliban are taking away one of the few remaining places left in the country where women can congregate outside the home. It’s not just about women losing access to beauty services, but them losing one of the only places that offered a sense of community and support. When speaking to BeautyMatter, Afghanistan-born makeup artist Matin Maulawizada, he explained how beauty salons were “a private space that provided women safety to express their thoughts, share their experiences, and speak freely with each other without worrying about prying eyes and ears of men and of the police. It has also been a place where women counsel each other about health care and contraception choices and ideas, where in some families it’s just never discussed.”

Naturally, Maulawizada has strong feelings towards the situation that has been unraveling in his home country (“It feels awful to see my beautiful people suffer immensely”) and feels passionate about the American government's decision to pull out of Afghanistan in 2021. “I’m disgusted that our president announced that we are leaving Afghanistan to put an end to unending wars, only to push for billions of dollars to start a new one in Ukraine. At least this time it’s better implemented and poor US soldiers are not being killed, just the poorest of Russians and Ukrainians that didn’t have the means to leave their countries.”

Although living in the US, Maulawizada still has both friends and family in Afghanistan. “They are in shock about the salons closing, which I find strange since it follows exactly what the Taliban has always done. But for some reason, they thought it might be different this time around. When I ask how I may be of help, they always ask if I can help them to get a visa and get out of Afghanistan.” Due to the closure of the US embassy, having to travel to another country to apply, and application fees being so expensive, acquiring a visa isn’t easy. “As a woman, especially an unmarried one, you are not allowed to travel alone even if you have the means to get yourself out of Afghanistan and can afford to live in an interim country for the months and sometimes years it takes to process a visa. So it’s basically an impossible situation,” Maulawizada explains. 

By no longer allowing women to finish higher education and run businesses, such as beauty salons, it’s likely to have a negative long-term impact on Afghanistan's economy. The closure of beauty salons will take away income for families in a region that is already seeing 15 million people facing food insecurity and half of children under the age of five suffering from malnutrition. The latest move from the Taliban has now seen officials throwing musical instruments into bonfires as Uzair-ur-Rahman Mohajer, Deputy Director of the Taliban’s Military for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice in Herat, has said that “promoting music causes moral corruption and playing it will cause the youth to go astray.”

It was reported that the U.S. Department of State spoke with senior Taliban representatives on July 30-31. The US wants the Taliban to reverse bans on secondary education for girls and employment for women, while the Taliban have requested they want the unfreezing of Afghanistan’s assets (the US froze $10B of Afghanistan's central bank assets in 2021). The future for Afghan women is uncertain, as the UN reports the Taliban has committed “egregious systematic violations of women’s rights” since regaining power. The closure of beauty salons sees these safe spaces and sources of financial freedom ripped from the hands of Afghan women.


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