The owner of a Kabul beauty salon says her business is facing increasing uncertainty.
Rahima says she was told to remove images of women considered "un-Islamic" from the outside of her salon.
The interviewee does not appear in any of the photographs featured in this article.
This was just one of the ways in which the face of the city was altered as the Taliban returned to power. In the months that followed, the group would implement a string of restrictions targeting women’s access to work and education, as well as their freedom of movement and dress.
Rahima - not her real name - is a make-up artist who runs a beauty salon in north Kabul. Since the Taliban’s takeover, she’s seen her business suffer in a myriad of ways; not only do women have less money to spend now, but fewer are leaving their homes due to restrictions. The 35-year-old says her business had been busy before, but now revenue has plummeted.
“We do not have as many customers as we used to have,” Rahima tells Afghan Witness (AW). “Many of my former customers have left the country, and a number of them who are still in Afghanistan do not come frequently.”
Since August last year, tens of thousands of Afghans have fled the country. According to official estimates by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 6 million Afghans were forcibly displaced from their homes by the end of 2021, while an estimated 24 million Afghans need humanitarian assistance.
Rahima, a mother of four, finds it hard to make ends meet while her husband is unemployed, meaning she is the sole breadwinner.
“I am at a loss with the parlour and can barely afford to meet my kids' demands and needs,” she says.
She has also had to watch her staff suffer. Rahima’s business had been a source of income for her three assistants - all women - who she had trained and later employed. Rahima says declining revenue means she can no longer pay the women their full salaries.
“My assistants’ situations are as bad as mine - they are suffering like me,” she adds.
A year since the Taliban seized power, experts say Afghanistan’s economy is on the verge of collapse and the country faces a dire humanitarian crisis. According to the UN, 95 per cent of Afghans are going hungry, and malnutrition threatens “an entire generation.”
Under such circumstances, small businesses such as Rahima’s have struggled to stay afloat. Rahima says all the other salons she is in touch with are facing the same issues - women have less disposable income to spend on beauty treatments, and a lack of clients has led to significant losses.
Virtue and Vice restrictions
However, Rahima is just grateful she can keep her doors open. Some women - such as female municipal employees in Kabul - have been told to stay home and not work unless their jobs cannot be filled by a man. Rahima says the Taliban’s Ministry of Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (MPVPV) - which replaced the former women’s ministry - has not created any major obstacles to her work, but she tells AW she was instructed to remove images of female models from the outside of her salon.
“They told us to remove the images which are without hijab and un-Islamic, and we complied accordingly,” Rahima recalls.
In December, it was reported that the Taliban had begun removing women’s posters from beauty salons in the 22 districts of Kabul due to them being against the group’s interpretation of Islamic law. According to reports, many of the images had already been blackened or painted over due to fear of reprisals following the Taliban’s takeover. Rahima and other sources in Kabul told AW that make-up salons have improvised and complied with the Taliban’s restrictions in different ways. A number of them have completely removed posters of models and have only the salon’s name on display, while others have replaced the posters with illustrations of women’s faces, hair and make-up tools.
In the same month, the Taliban also said women seeking to travel long distances should not be allowed on road transport unless accompanied by a close male relative, and, in early May, the Taliban ordered women to cover their faces in public, announcing that non-compliance may lead to the imprisonment of women’s male family members. The decree appears to have been implemented to varying degrees across provinces, but later in May, the Taliban also ordered women journalists to cover their faces on air. Both restrictions on women’s dress have been met with condemnation nationally and internationally.
AW has spoken to several women in recent months who have voiced concerns over the knock-on effects of the restrictions. One woman who owns a business selling traditional Afghan attire says she has been unable to travel to other provinces to take photographs of her models, while another explained how she has to remove one of her sons from school so that they can accompany her on business trips to neighbouring provinces.
According to Rahima, even wedding ceremonies and how they are conducted under the Taliban’s rule have changed. Previously, Rahima’s daily clients included several brides, but she says many people have refrained from playing music at their weddings, which was corroborated by reports in July that the Taliban had instructed wedding halls not to play music at celebrations across the country. According to reports, in some cases, those who failed to comply were temporarily detained, released only after signing a written pledge.
However, with Rahima able to work still, these restrictions don’t seem to bother her that much; what upsets her most is seeing a downturn in the business she worked hard to establish.
When asked how she feels about her future, Rahima replies that she feels scared:
“We fear poverty and an uncertain future that awaits us."
Interview by Afghan Witness