Published20 hours ago
Hair and beauty salons across Afghanistan will close in the coming weeks on the Taliban’s orders.
Their closure will lead to the loss of an estimated 60,000 jobs.
Salons had been allowed to keep operating since the Taliban retook power two years ago, but it reversed its position last month.
The decision further restricts spaces open to Afghan women, who are already barred from classrooms, gyms and parks.
23-year-old Zarmina was in a beauty salon getting her hair dyed dark brown when news of the approaching closures came through.
“The owner got a big shock and started to cry. She is the breadwinner for her family,” the mother of two said.
“I couldn’t even look at the mirror when my eyebrow was being done. Everyone was in tears. There was silence.”
Zarmina lives in Kandahar in southern Afghanistan, the Taliban’s conservative citadel where the supreme leader resides.
She says it’s common here for men to ban their daughters from wearing make-up or going for a beauty treatment.
“Most women walk around in a burqa or hijab here. We have accepted it as part of our culture.”
Zarmina was married at 16. She says a chat at the beautician was enough to give her a rare sense of freedom.
“I wasn’t allowed to leave my house on my own, but I managed to persuade my husband, and was allowed to visit the beauty salon two or three times a year.”
She used to go to the salon with a woman from her neighbourhood, developing a deep friendship with one of its workers.
“In the past, women used to talk about ways to influence their husbands. Some were open about their insecurities.”
But the economic crisis had gradually intruded into their lives after the Taliban retook power in August 2021 following the withdrawal of US forces from the country.
Women’s freedoms have steadily shrunk since then.
“Now women only talk about unemployment, discrimination and poverty,” Zarmina says.
Grace and beauty
Madina covers her head with a scarf when she leaves home. Only her husband and female members of her family can see her coloured hair.
The 22-year-old lives in Kabul, and keenly follows the latest beauty trends online.
“Every woman I know loves to improve her style. I love the latest fashion and wearing make-up.”
She says going to the beauty salon has kept her marriage fresh.
“My husband really loves to see my hair in different colours and cut in different styles.
“He always takes me to the beauty salon and waits patiently at the door,” she says proudly.
“He compliments my looks when I walk out, which makes me feel good.”
Her ambition was to become a lawyer but the Taliban stopped women going to university. She’s been unable to find work since as women are also banned from many other roles.
Madina used to accompany her mum to the salon as a child and vividly recalls how women would openly share their life stories with each other.
“Women employees in the salon no longer wear skirts or jeans, they’re all in hijabs.”
And fear is everywhere.
“No-one knows who is a Taliban supporter and no-one wants to say anything about politics.”
In the past, grooms were allowed to watch their bride get ready. Madina even remembers some men taking photos inside the salon. This is all now banned.
But Madina says she at least has joyful memories of her “big day” to cherish.
“I went to the beauty salon and got full bridal make-up before my wedding last year,” she says.
“When I looked at myself in the mirror, I was so beautiful. It transformed me. I couldn’t describe my happiness.”
For 27-year-old Somaya from the north-western city of Mazar-i-Sharif, a beauty salon is a necessity.
Three years ago she suffered burns to her face, losing her eyebrows and eyelashes after a heater in her room exploded.
“I couldn’t bear to look at my face. I looked ugly,” she says, her voice full of emotion.
“I thought everyone was looking at me and laughing at me because my eyebrows were gone. I didn’t go out for a couple of months. I cried a lot during that time.”
Medical treatment healed her wounds, while the beauty salon helped her recover her sense of self.
“I went to the beauty salon and had micro-blading [a semi-permanent form of cosmetic tattooing]. It made me look much better,” she says.
“When I looked at my eyebrows, I started to cry. They are tears of joy. The beauty salon gave me my life back.”
Somaya has a master’s degree in psychology and works as a mental health counsellor. She has seen the number of women seeking her services swell since the Taliban imposed sweeping restrictions. She is not alone in using the beauty parlour for “therapy”.
“For us, salons are more than places to do your make-up. It helped us hide our sorrows. It gave us energy and hope.”
Zarmina agrees. As she walked home that June day, from what would be her last trip to the salon, she kept looking back.
She was fully aware of what she was losing – her tiny stab at independence.
“I paid for myself at the salon and it gave me strength and power. I have money but I can’t spend it on myself in the beauty salon. This makes me feel poor.”
(All names have been changed)