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3 Sep

What the Taliban’s beauty salon ban means for Afghan

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

Beauty salons were also ordered to shut 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 fulfill and connect with other women – spaces which are already hard to return by for Afghan women. It’s estimated that these closures will lead to a loss of around 60,000 jobs (the vast majority of that are women), cutting off their income and a way for them to be financially independent.

This August marks two years because the Taliban got here into power again and the wonder salon ban is the newest in a protracted line of restrictions imposed upon Afghan women, including barring women from employment (including the United Nations), education, and public spaces similar to gyms and parks. The Taliban also mandated that women should be modestly dressed in a way that only reveals their eyes, and have to be accompanied by a male family member when travelling greater than 48 miles.

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

This aid has also now turn into more restricted with the UK government cutting their foreign aid budgets this 12 months, 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 attributable to these cuts will “potentially leave a few of the most vulnerable women and girls in the world without critical services.” These cuts are currently planned to proceed until a minimum of 2024, in keeping with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Kevin Schumacher, deputy executive director of Women for Afghan Women, also explained to Dazed why the move to shut 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 alternative of dress to their hairdo preferences,” he says. “This move is a collective punishment against every Afghan woman, and a preemptive measure against all women and girls.”

Each Schumacher and Zaidi also see these closures as not only negatively impacting women’s freedom and independence but in addition their ability to access care and community. “The closure means the tip of certainly one of the few public spaces where Afghan women could safely get together to discuss 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 ladies who’ve the predominant bulwark of protest against them.”

“The closure means the tip of certainly 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. Because the announcement in early July, women have been taking to the streets in Afghanistan to protest the closures and the broader 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 keep off on restrictions, especially when the Taliban has been known to arrest and imprison activists.

Nonetheless, the international community must also do more to support Afghan women of their fight for liberation and freedom. Zaidi argues that these restrictions needs to 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 have to be listened to and meaning being included and properly listened to at international gatherings, similar to the United Nations.”

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

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