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Afghan Beauty Parlors Take A Cut After Taliban Takeover

A woman wearing a niqab enters a beauty salon where the ads of women have been defaced by a shopkeeper in Kabul.

Three years ago, Nida, a young Afghan entrepreneur, established a modern beauty parlor in Shahr-e Nau, an upscale neighborhood in Kabul.

Business steadily grew as she attracted a loyal clientele for beauty and hair treatments in the capital. And as profits rose, the salon expanded, eventually employing half a dozen beauticians and hair stylists.

Nida recalls coming to work with enthusiasm and taking pride in feeling she was providing a welcomed service for Afghan women.

But she closed her salon shortly after the Taliban swiftly seized Kabul in August, well aware that businesses like hers were being defaced with spray paint to cover posters of women models and brides used to attract customers. Some salon owners removed the pictures themselves or painted them over to avoid trouble with the new authorities.

A Taliban fighter walks past a beauty salon with images of women defaced using spray paint in Shar-e Nau in Kabul.
A Taliban fighter walks past a beauty salon with images of women defaced using spray paint in Shar-e Nau in Kabul.

After repeated closures, Nida recently obtained a trade license from the Taliban. But her clientele and peace of mind have disappeared.

"We women are terrified of the Taliban and worried about our future," she told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi. "Now, we often wait for just one customer to show up during an entire day."

Losing An 'Oasis'

In Kabul, beauty salon owners estimate that most shops have lost more than 90 percent of their business. High-end shops that used to rake in thousands of dollars a month now must live on a few hundred. Most have massively slashed prices for their services, yet fewer customers are showing up.

Nida describes her salon as an oasis where the staff often celebrated with those preparing for occasions such as weddings or engagements. Now, she says, "we are struggling to just put food on the table."

Fatima, a pseudonym given by a beauty parlor owner in the western city of Herat, agrees. Fatima closed her shop for a week after the Taliban takeover on August 15. But the thought of her family going hungry forced her to overcome her fear of the militants and she opened up shop again.

"I want the Taliban to let women work in all sectors and refrain from forcing them to sit at home," she told Radio Azadi. "We do not expect anything more."

Women have borne the brunt of the Taliban's restrictions. After seizing power, the militants restricted women's access to education and work and their general presence and role in society. Six months into Taliban rule, teenage girls have yet to return to school.

Women everywhere are either required or encouraged to wear the Islamic hijab. Female students returning to university are made to attend gender-segregated classes. At the same time, many women working for government departments have either been laid off or are receiving little pay. A male guardian must accompany women whenever they leave their homes. And those who demonstrate for greater rights have been arrested and, in some cases, disappeared.

Beauty parlors are a rare venue where women can socialize outside their homes. But Fatima says the Taliban takeover has wrecked her business. She says many of her clients fled Taliban rule and those remaining have lost jobs and livelihoods. Some women are so terrified of the Taliban that they do not want to risk going to the salon.

Fleeing Clients

An estimated 1.5 million Afghans have left their country since the Taliban seized power. A large majority of them were government workers and military officers who formed the backbone of the fallen pro-Western Afghan republic, and their departures have eroded the middle class. Many professionals, entrepreneurs, and those working for aid agencies also left in the chaotic weeks leading up to the final withdrawal of U.S. and Western forces on August 31.

Maryam, a young woman in Kabul, says fewer women she knows can now afford to visit salons. "The economic difficulties have a role in this, but people are mostly afraid [of the Taliban]," she said.

Customers wait for their turn at a beauty parlor in Kabul.
Customers wait for their turn at a beauty parlor in Kabul.

Radio Azadi attempted to reach the Taliban for comment. But Zabihullah Mujahid, the top Taliban spokesman, and his deputies Bilal Karimi and Ahmadullah Wasiq did not respond to repeated requests.

While the Taliban has not said anything about closing or regulating beauty salons, the Taliban's religious police have issued orders banning men from shaving their beards and trimming their hair in some parts of Afghanistan. Taliban officials say the Taliban's Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice now only advises Afghans on how best to follow Islamic injunctions, but does not enforce them as it did during the Taliban's first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.

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    RFE/RL's Radio Azadi

    RFE/RL's Radio Azadi is one of the most popular and trusted media outlets in Afghanistan. Nearly half of the country's adult audience accesses Azadi's reporting on a weekly basis.

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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, specializes in the coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan.