Since the Taliban resumed control in Afghanistan in 2021, the hard-line group’s regressive restrictions on women, notorious from its previous reign, have resurfaced with alarming intensity. New impositions have seen women and girls excluded from formal education above the age of 12, barred from the public sector and judicial roles, and subject to restrictions on independent travel and dress code in public.
A Sweep of Changes Affects Women’s Independence
In a move highlighting their specific emphasis, the Taliban has recently given directives for the shutdown of all nationwide beauty salons. The Ministry for Virtue Propagation and Vice Prevention decreed this directive would come into effect from July 27. As per the Taliban administration’s strict interpretation of Islamic religious law, they argue salon services are considered prohibited activities. Furthermore, they argue that these salons impose an unnecessary financial burden on families of grooms who typically bear the expense of brides’ salon visits before weddings.
In light of these disheartening conditions, Euronews Persian visited Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan’s Balkh province to directly communicate with those suffering due to these modifications. Marzieh Rezaei, an ambitious hairdresser whose plans for her trade are now dashed, expressed her dissatisfaction and concern about putting herself and her family into economic hardship due to salon shutdowns. Tahereh Mohammadi, an experienced beauty salon manager who has been in business for 18 years, also shared how such measures critically endanger her future aspirations while adding stress to her family’s monetary well-being. She becomes solely responsible for earning amidst an unemployed spouse to meet home expenses and children’s educational dues. Bereshana Yaqoubi, another hairdresser with a crucial role in contributing towards family income, finds herself haunted by unpredictability over future earnings after this decision was announced. The stories narrated by these women echo the broader adversities faced by many more women day-to-day under Taliban governance in Afghanistan. Despite economic downfall and deteriorating living conditions hitting rock bottom, women still face exclusion from public and private sectors.
The Toll on Economy and Human Rights
The prohibition of women’s participation in work worsens the human rights crisis posed by the Taliban’s gender-based views, further embedded in the law. As Moneseh Mubarez, a women’s rights activist, pointed out, the continuation of these restrictions is a condemnation of the Taliban and the international community. The world, according to Mubarez, has remained lamentably silent. In the aftermath of Kabul’s fall in August 2021, armed Taliban entered the Henna Beauty Salon, assuring the staff that they could continue working. Athena Hashemi, the salon’s owner, recalled the Taliban’s words that their work could continue since no men were present.
However, weeks later, the Taliban’s Ministry of Virtue and Vice ordered the salon to close, reasoning that the services they provide are “forbidden by Islam.” This sudden decision shocked Hashemi and her staff. Heather Barr from Human Rights Watch explained that the recent decision is a severe blow to women’s ability to work in the private sector. She further emphasized the importance of beauty salons as community support systems for women who have lost many other sources of support. Echoing Barr’s concerns, the U.S. special envoy for Afghan women, Rina Amiri, described the ban as worrisome. She expressed concern about the impact on the economy and the restriction of women’s rights. The Taliban’s decision will affect approximately 12,000 beauty salons across the country, leading to severe economic and psychological implications for women employed in this sector. This echoes a grim reminder of the dwindling space for women’s work and the further transformation of Afghanistan into an international outlier in terms of human rights and gender equality.