EXCLUSIVE: Afghanistan's Beauty Salon Owners Look To Flee 'Gender Apartheid'

EXCLUSIVE: Afghanistan's Beauty Salon Owners Look To Flee 'Gender Apartheid'
As Tuesday's deadline set by the interim Afghan Taliban approached to shut down beauty parlours across the country, Afghanistan's salon owners are mulling relocation to regions outside the Islamic Emirate's control while continuing their resistance.

Thousands of women across Afghanistan work at female-only salons in the country. For many, it is their sole source of income.

However, the Interim Afghan Taliban Government last month decided that since some services ran contrary to their understanding of Islam and that brides acquiring beauty procedures before marriage adds an unnecessary expense on grooms, all beauty salons for women should close.

It gave beauty salons until Tuesday to consume their makeup stock and close up shop.

Many women working in these hair salons, mostly breadwinners for their families, have been in this profession for decades and are not ready to accept the new decision.

Salon owners and workers who have been working for decades said this is not the first time they have faced such a ban from the Taliban.

They recalled how they were prohibited from operating for five years - from 1996 to 2001 - when the Taliban last ruled Afghanistan. After the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 toppled the Taliban government, they reopened.

Some salon owners lamented that their decades-old business's sudden, forced closure was quite shocking for them.

They strongly disagreed with the order terming it as unacceptable for women who depend on the profession for a living, and that they plan to resist the move.

Others said that women in Afghanistan have been banned from venturing to all other public places, including schools, universities, government jobs, especially for women and even public spaces such as parks, gyms and amusement parks.

Hundreds of Afghan women gathered in Kabul a week ago to protest the interim government's recent decision. The protesting women pleaded that they and their families depend on this business for survival. Gun-toting enforcers of the Afghan Taliban fired in the air to disperse them.

In its survey, the Afghanistan Women's Chamber of Commerce and Industry estimated that this beauty parlour ban would affect nearly 60,000 women to lose their income from work at an estimated 12,000 salons.

The salon owners and other Afghan citizens hinted that Afghan women could continue their protests against this 'cruel' move.

But for many, this would be the last straw to break their back, and they would opt to relocate to areas outside of Taliban control.

No concealer required

The interim Afghan Taliban government, it seems, has little desire to even dress up the orders issued by its Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, let alone reverse it.

Mohammad Sadiq Akif, a spokesperson for the Afghan Taliban's Sharia Enforcement Ministry, explained that the decision to shut down the salons will be implemented in due course.

He insisted that these salons add unnecessary and excessive costs to men during their wedding ceremonies.

The ministry's order earlier this month argued that some procedures performed at these establishments violated Islamic law. At the same time, lavish sums spent on makeovers put struggling families at risk.

The ministry argued that eyelash extensions and hair weaving were prohibited and that excessive makeup impeded women from performing sufficient ablutions for prayer.

It is pertinent to mention here that the interim Afghan government had ordered barbers to stop shaving men's beards just days after taking over Afghanistan after US-led forces evacuated from Afghanistan.

Gender apartheid

Global observers say women and girls in Afghanistan are subjected to systemic discrimination and oppression under the Afghan Taliban rule.

In a report submitted to the UN's Human Rights Council last month by Richard Bennett, the special rapporteur for Afghanistan, the plight of women and girls in the country "was among the worst in the world".

Bennett believed there is "grave, systemic, and institutionalized discrimination against women and girls at the core of Taliban ideology and rule, raising concerns that they may be accountable for gender apartheid."

But their moves are now facing criticism from within their borders as well.

After a ban was imposed on girls going to universities, some Afghan religious scholars criticized it.

While Afghan women have been banned from working in the government, they have now also been reportedly barred from working at the United Nations, a move that the Taliban have yet to publicly recognize.