KABUL: Afghanistan’s Taliban authorities have ordered beauty parlours across the country to shut within a month, the vice ministry confirmed Tuesday, the latest curb to squeeze women out of public life.
The order will force the closure of thousands of businesses run by women - often the only source of income for households - and outlaw one of the few remaining opportunities for them to socialise away from home.
“I think it would have been good if women did not exist at all in this society,” said the manager of a Kabul parlour who asked not to be identified.
“I am saying this now: I wish I did not exist. I wish we were not born in Afghanistan, or were not from Afghanistan.”
Since seizing power in August 2021, the Taliban government has barred girls and women from high schools and universities, banned them from parks, funfairs and gyms, and ordered them to cover up in public.
Women have also mostly been barred from working for the United Nations or NGOs, and thousands have been sacked from government jobs or are being paid to stay at home.
Mohammad Sadeq Akif Muhajir, spokesman for the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, would not say why the order had been given.
“Once they are closed then we will share the reason with the media,” he told AFP.
He said the businesses had been given time to close their affairs so they could use up their stock without incurring losses.
A copy of the order seen by AFP said it was “based on verbal instruction from the supreme leader” Hibatullah Akhundzada.
'Chat and gossip’
Beauty parlours mushroomed across Kabul and other Afghan cities in the 20 years that US-led forces occupied the country.
They were seen as a safe place to gather and socialise away from men and provided vital business opportunities for women.
“Women used to chat, gossip. There was no fighting here, no noise,” said a salon worker who asked to be identified only as Neelab.
“When we see some happy and active faces here, we are also refreshed. The salon has a very important role; this place makes us feel comfortable.”
Another salon manager said she employed 25 women who were all breadwinners for their families.
“All of them are heartbroken... what should they do?” she said.
A report to the UN’s Human Rights Council last week by Richard Bennett, the special rapporteur for Afghanistan, said the plight of women and girls in Afghanistan “was among the worst in the world”.
“Grave, systematic and institutionalized discrimination against women and girls is at the heart of Taliban ideology and rule, which also gives rise to concerns that they may be responsible for gender apartheid,” Bennett said.
‘For what reason?’
UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada Al Nashif added: “Over the past 22 months, every aspect of women’s and girls’ lives has been restricted.”
“They are discriminated against in every way.”
Akhundzada, who rarely appears in public and rules by decree from the Taliban’s birthplace in Kandahar, said last month Afghan women were being saved from “traditional oppressions” by the adoption of Islamic governance and their status as “free and dignified human beings” restored.
He said in a statement marking the Eid Al Adha holiday that steps had been taken to provide women with a “comfortable and prosperous life according to Islamic Sharia”.
Raha, a 24-year-old student until she was barred from university last year, was visiting a salon Tuesday for a makeover before an engagement party.
“This place was the only place left for women to earn for themselves and they want to take it, too,” she said.
“It’s a question for all of us - why are they doing so? For what reason?”