“I don’t want to be”: Afghan women’s cries of despair in the face of new crackdown on women | the world

The Taliban government announced on Tuesday that it has ordered the closure of beauty parlors in Afghanistan within a month, a new move to keep women out of public life.

WATCH: ‘I wasn’t born here, wish I wasn’t’: Taliban orders closure of beauty salons

The decision would mean the disappearance of thousands of businesses run by women, whose families often have no other source of income, and one of the last remaining areas of freedom and socialization for Afghan women.

“I think it would be better if there were no women in this society,” remarked ironically the manager of a salon in Kabul, who did not want to be named. “I say now: I wish I wasn’t. I wish we weren’t born in Afghanistan or we didn’t come from Afghanistan,” he told AFP.

More obstacles

Since returning to power in August 2021, the Taliban have excluded women from most secondary schools, universities and public administration. They also banned working with the UN and international NGOs more broadly.

Women are prohibited from entering parks, gardens, sports halls and public baths, travel unaccompanied by a male relative and must cover themselves completely when leaving the house.

Deputy Prevention and Virtue Development Ministry spokesman Mohammad Sadiq Akif Muhajir confirmed to AFP on Tuesday the closure of the beauty salons, which had been mentioned on social media for days. He did not justify this decision. “Once they are closed, we will inform the media about the reason,” he said.

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Salons have been given a month’s time to close so that they can sell their stock without incurring any loss. According to a written copy of the order seen by AFP, the decision was based on verbal instructions from Afghanistan’s Supreme Leader Hibatullah Akhundzada. Beauty parlors proliferated in Kabul and other major Afghan cities during the 20-year occupation by US and NATO forces before the Taliban returned to power.

“Why?”

They were considered safe places for women to meet in the absence of men, and also helped many women set up their own businesses.

“Girls chat and gossip. We don’t fight here, there is no noise,” said a salon employee, identified as Neelab. “When we see happy and excited faces, it cheers us up too. The living room has a very important role: this space allows us to feel good,” he added.

Another manager announced that he was hiring 25 women, all of whom were breadwinners. “All are destroyed (…) what should they do (now)”, she pointed out on condition of anonymity.

“One of the worst in the world”

In a report presented last week to the United Nations Human Rights Council, Richard Bennett, the special rapporteur on Afghanistan, called the situation of women and girls in the country “one of the worst in the world.” “Radical, systematic and institutionalized discrimination against women and girls is at the heart of the Taliban’s ideology and power,” said Mr. Bennett promised.

Hibatullah Akhunzada said in late June that women living in the country had been rescued from “oppression” by the Taliban government and restored to their status as “free and dignified human beings”. Public appearances are rare and the Supreme Leader, who governs the country from the Taliban’s cradle of Kandahar (South) mandate, explained that everything was done to guarantee women a “comfortable and prosperous life according to Sharia” (according to Islamic law).

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Raha (not her real name), who was a student before she was banned from the college last year, was visiting a salon on Tuesday to get ready for an engagement party. “It’s the last place where women can live and they want to take that away,” she noted. “It’s a question for all of us: Why are they doing this? Why?”

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