By Ziba Balkhi
Shaifqa was sitting with guests at her home in Balkh province when armed Taliban members raided her house, forcing their way in without permission.
“They entered my house through the gate and over the wall, without coordinating with the man of the house or having official permission to search it,” she says.
The 40-year-old, who was a beautician for at least seven years in Balkh’s capital Mazar-e-Sharif, swiftly lost her job when the Taliban’s de facto government banned beauty salons throughout the country. But the problems did not end there.
“It was just 10 days ago that some of them entered the house from the roof of our house and a few of them entered the house through the gate,” Shafiqa says. “They didn’t have a permit; they didn’t even ask my husband once if there were women inside.”
Shafiqa says she was sitting with guests at the dining table when the men burst in. “They insulted and humiliated me, accusing me of still working as a beautician, although I had quit my job because of the ban,” she says. “My guests and I were all asked for our details. They took our names. They asked for our identity cards and warned me that no woman should visit anymore.”
The United Nations urged the Taliban to not close women’s beauty salons, saying the decision hurts families by depriving them of an income.
According to the statistics published by BBC Persian from its sources, an estimated 60,000 women working in salons lost their jobs and livelihoods that day.
In a devastating outcome for the raid on Shafiqa, the local Taliban in Balkh also forced her and her husband to guarantee that no woman will visit their house again.
The loss of income is tough on the family, with Shafiqa’s husband Ezzat needing to stretch his shopkeeper income for his family of six.
Ezzat, 47, says the Taliban forces violated his family and their privacy by entering his house.
“Even though we are not working and our beauty salon is closed, they still don’t leave us alone. We are in controversy. Entering a person’s house from the roof without prior agreement is an invasion of privacy. It is illegal and unethical. Their work must be stopped,” he says.
Sole breadwinners targeted
Many women who were working in beauty salons were the breadwinners of families around Afghanistan. They were working in one of the few professions still available to women under Taliban rule.
Nasrin* was the sole money-earner for her family after her husband died from cancer five years ago. After his death, she became a beautician.
Nasrin says she has barely recovered from the day she heard that beauty salons were banned. She lost sleep and her appetite. “I collected my shop’s appliances in tears and emptied the shop,” she says.
But because of her three children, she decided to allow some customers to visit her at home.
“I had no other way. My children were sleeping hungry and thirsty,” she says. “I took the risk to earn money and decided to put makeup on some girls and women at home.”
The 43-year-old says the Taliban recently arrested her brother because of this. “They violently beat my brother and took him to the police district and fined me 50,000 afghanis (US$630).”
“I was doing makeup at my clients’ house so that the Taliban wouldn’t suspect. I didn’t have a sign on the door of the house. I would make up the clients and they would either wear a veil or hide their faces so that no one would see them wearing makeup when they left my house; But this only lasted for a short time before the Taliban found out,” she says.
Wiping away tears while speaking, Nasrin says she worries about how she will provide food for her children.
“I have a little savings – maybe one month left. But what should we eat after this? [The Taliban] have closed all ways for women to work. Believe me, I can’t think of anything else, what should I do? My blood pressure has been high for a week and my mental state is bad,” she says. ““Why do the Taliban have a problem with women? Don’t they know that we are also the breadwinners of families? If they take this job from us, what should we do?”
Somaiya*, who does not want her location mentioned, has been working as a beautician from her home for six years. After the salons were forced closed, she continued to see customers at her home. But about a month after the ban, the Taliban entered her house, hit her and her customers and threatened to imprison her if she served customers again.
“There was a bride and three other girls with whom I had to do makeup. It was at 10 o’clock in the morning when the gate bell rang, and I saw that there were Taliban. I don’t know where they got the news from, because I didn’t even have a plaque in my house. They entered my house and when they saw the customers, they were very angry.”
Somaiya says the Taliban cursed her and the customers, beating them with the butt of the rifle. “They told my customers to go away and not return, saying obscene things.”
She had worked to contribute some income to her husband’s for their living expenses. “The economic situation of the Afghan people is known to everyone. My husband works one day, another day there is no work, and he comes home empty-handed. I wanted to help my husband and support him in providing for the household expenses, or at least meet my needs in this way.”
The Taliban’s Ministry of Vice and Virtue banned women’s salons saying they were “against Islamic Sharia”.
But for Somaiya, its just another way the Taliban take bread and dignity from women under the pretext of Islamic law. “Nobody is happy to bear what the Taliban say. We work out of necessity. Dozens of women become unemployed with just one order of the Taliban,” she says.
“They do not care about the problems of women. Right now, I know five or six other women who were my students and we worked together have all become unemployed and each of them was the head [breadwinner] of their own family.”
*Pseudonyms have been used for security reasons