By Laila Yousufy
It was one of the earliest signs of the Taliban’s return to power: the whitewashing of women’s images on the doors of beauty salons in Kabul.
Amid the Taliban’s lightning takeover of Afghanistan, Kabul’s beauty salons closed. Now they have reopened, but their workers are struggling to make ends meet.
Palwasha Ahmadzai, 25, reopened her salon two weeks after the Taliban’s takeover of the country, in late August. But she is yet to see the business she enjoyed before the previous government’s collapse. “Before the Taliban, we usually had around 30 customers a day,” she told Rukhshana Media. “Now we are down to less than 10 a day. Most of our customers were professional women and girls,” she added.
Ahmadzai explained that since the Taliban temporarily banned women’s employment, “they cannot afford to spend money on beauty salons.”
“This might be the last time I can afford to cut my hair in a salon,” said Najia Bahar, a customer at Ahmadzai’s salon. “I used to work for the Ministry of Higher Education, and spend some money on myself, but with the Taliban in power, I have lost that job.”
“Now our main concern is how to put food on the table,” Bahar added.
Roya Mohebi, 36, is a hairdresser and beautician who has run a beauty salon in Kabul since 2011. A few weeks ago, she reopened her shop, which had a makeover of its own. From the outside, it no longer looks like a beauty salon, but a nondescript shop with a yellow curtain covering the window from the inside. She removed the images of women and the name of her salon. “Only my old customers know I’m working here.”
She fears the Taliban could target her salon. “The Taliban have banned women from work, even the teachers. I doubt they will allow us to run our beauty salons,” she said.
A month ago, when her shop was closed, Mohebi continued to work, but somewhat secretly. “One of my customers was getting married. I went to her home and I did her makeup, even though I was scared.”
Beauty salons have mushroomed over the past twenty years, becoming one of the few sectors where women could own businesses in Afghanistan. But it is not clear whether they will be allowed to continue their work under Taliban rule.
In late September, a Taliban official told the Afghan television network Tolonews that women should not use perfume, wear colorful clothes or high heels as this would attract young men.
In reaction, some Afghan women took to social media to oppose the Taliban’s austere views on women’s makeup and clothing.