* Beauty salons repainted after Taliban takeover * Salons helped empower Afghan women
* Secret lounges opened during the last reign of the Taliban By Bahaar Joya and Emma Batha
September 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Shortly after the Taliban captured Kabul, gunmen walked into Sadaf’s beauty salon and threatened to shoot him in the face before smashing the front window . “I was really shaking and scared. I’ve been home ever since,” said Sadaf, a 40-year-old widow who relies on her living room income to support her five children.
When the Taliban last ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, they closed beauty salons and flogged women in public for breaking strict dress codes that required them to cover their faces. After the eviction of Islamist activists, salons opened across the country, offering work to many women.
When the Taliban regained control on August 15, images of glamorous models adorning beauty salons were repainted – in some cases by business owners fearing retaliation. Photos of the disfigured images have gone viral on social media. Sadaf started working as a hairdresser after her husband died of a heart attack in 2015. This meant that she did not have to marry her husband’s brother to feed her children – a common fate for many widows in the patriarchal country.
âFinance is everything for a woman, it’s power,â said Sadaf, who asked to use a pseudonym. “This job gave me status and power over my husband’s family. I stood up for my rights and helped my children,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Kabul.
A six-month beauty course funded by a UN agency and the Afghan government boosted her skills and income, allowing her to open her own hair, makeup, manicure, pedicure and wedding makeover salon lucrative. Manizha Wafeq, president of the Afghan Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (AWCCI), said hairdressing was popular work because it was a profession traditionally acceptable to women and well paid.
A woman who runs a salon, even a very modest one, can earn between $ 200 and $ 300 a month, more than double what many teachers earn, she said. LAUGH AND TEARS
Like other salons, Sadaf’s business not only offered beauty services, but was also a meeting place for women. “They came to talk about their problems, their hopes and even their arguments with their husbands or their mother-in-law,” she said.
“Sometimes there were laughs and jokes, sometimes even crying.” Sadaf, whose clients included housewives, embassy workers, UN staff and television presenters, played Bollywood and Afghan songs while she worked.
Music, dancing and television were banned in the 1990s due to the harsh interpretation of Islamic law by the Taliban. In the northern town of Mazar-i-Sharif, Madina also regrets the camaraderie in her living room where a television entertained patrons of the Afghan music channel, which shows boys and girls singing and dancing together – a driving that the Taliban would hate.
âI had a low table where the women were chatting over a cup of tea or a cold drink. We called it Gossip Corner,â she said. The 29-year-old mother-of-two removed her salon sign with a drawing of a woman in makeup and all the window images.
âEmotionally, it affected me a lot. I lost my clients, most of whom had become very good friends,â said Madina, who now depends on her taxi driver husband. She doesn’t expect to be back anytime soon.
“I feel in danger now because of my job. The Taliban thinks I am committing a sin. They think a woman wearing makeup in public can turn a man on,” she said. When they were last in power, the Taliban sometimes cut off women’s fingers for wearing nail polish and flogged them for accidentally exposing their ankles or feet.
âThey brutally beat women in the streets with sticks and lashes if they (broke the rules),â Madina said. UNDERGROUND SHOWS
Taliban officials have said they will not revert to their fundamentalist policies and that women will be able to work under Islamic law, but have not specified what that means. Although the Taliban did not make any statements on the shows, Madina and Sadaf did not know of any that were open.
However, the AWCCI said some lounges in Kabul were operating quietly and the Taliban was imposing different rules in different places. Afghanistan’s beauty industry is fueled by the central role of engagements and weddings in the country’s culture, recently bolstered by a burgeoning local fashion industry.
Dramatic makeup and elaborate hairstyles – heavily influenced by Bollywood and Arabic styles – take hours to perfect. A full wedding makeover can cost $ 400, with high-end salons charging double.
âAfghan women have always been very picky about their appearance – even under their burqas,â said Shaima Ali, 64, a hairdresser from Kabul who now lives in the United States. When the Taliban shut down beauty salons in the 1990s, Ali said some beauticians set up underground salons.
Even Taliban wives visited them, hiding their new styles under their wraparound burqas. Ali heard about the underground salons when she returned to Afghanistan in 2003 to teach at a beauty school established after US-led forces overthrew the Taliban.
The broken country Ali returned to was a far cry from the Afghanistan she knew in the 1970s, when young women like her strolled through Kabul in mini skirts, platform shoes and dyed blonde hair. In beauty school, she taught students modern techniques of hairdressing and makeup so that they could start their own business.
The academy was the subject of a bestselling book “The Kabul School of Beauty” – written by fellow teacher Deborah Rodriguez – which gave rare insight into the family life of Afghan women. Ali said weddings and celebrations had always continued under the Taliban and secret salons provided significant income for women who were banned from education and work by activists.
“They were making a lot of money – sometimes a lot more than their husbands,” she added. In Kabul, Sadaf is afraid to reopen her salon, but has already started seeing clients close to her home.
“It’s the only job I can do,” she said. âIf the Taliban don’t allow us to work, they should feed my family.
(This story was not edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)