Taliban Shut Beauty Salons, One of Afghan Women’s Last Public Spaces

All women’s beauty salons in Afghanistan were set to close on Tuesday, officials said, as part of a Taliban administration announcement early this month that the women-only spaces were forbidden under Shariah law and caused economic hardship for grooms’ families during wedding celebrations.

The closing of the salons — one of the few public places left in Afghanistan where women could congregate outside the home — represents another grim milestone for women’s rights in Afghanistan. Since the Taliban seized power in August 2021, the government has steadily rolled back women’s rights, barring women and girls from most public spaces, from traveling any significant distance without a male relative and from attending school beyond sixth grade.

The salons had been given a one-month grace period to end their operations.

Taliban security forces in Kabul, the capital, made the rounds on Tuesday to ensure that salons were complying with the ban, according to Sadeq Akif Muhajir, the spokesman for the Taliban administration’s Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.

The initial announcement ordering salons to close prompted a rare public protest early this month in Kabul, the capital, where dozens of salon owners and beauticians marched down the street while holding signs opposing the ban. Security forces with the Taliban administration broke up the protest using fire hoses and shot weapons into the air to disperse the crowd.

The use of force drew criticism from the United Nations mission in Afghanistan, which tweeted that “Afghans have the right to express views free from violence. De facto authorities must uphold this.”

For many women in Kabul, beauty salons have been cherished as one of a handful of safe spaces where women could gather away from men outside the home.

Closing up in Kabul on Monday. Salons had been given a month to end their operations.Credit…Ali Khara/Reuters

Shukriya Afshar, 46, has worked as a beautician in the Gul Raihan Beauty Salon in Kabul for two years. She said that her husband earned just a few dollars a week as a day laborer and that the money from the salon was critical to supplementing the family’s income.

The work also offered her a badly needed mental-health outlet as she watched her rights erode under the Taliban administration.

“I could get away from anxiety and mental pressure by going to the salon and working,” she said.

Previous Taliban edicts have restricted women from most employment opportunities outside health care and private businesses, and about 60,000 women were employed by roughly 12,000 salons across Afghanistan, according to the Afghanistan Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“This isn’t about getting your hair and nails done,” Heather Barr, the associate director of women’s rights at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “This is about 60,000 women losing their jobs. This is about women losing one of the only places they could go for community and support.”

Such restrictions have also drawn widespread international condemnation, including from other Islamist governments like those of Iran and Saudi Arabia, and prompted international human rights monitors to label Afghanistan one of the most restrictive countries in the world for women.

“Women and girls in Afghanistan are experiencing severe discrimination that may amount to gender persecution — a crime against humanity,” Richard Bennett, the United Nations special rapporteur for Afghanistan, said in a statement last month. “The de facto authorities appear to be governing by systemic discrimination with the intention to subject women and girls to total domination.”

Safiullah Padshah contributed reporting.

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