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The Taliban are banning women's beauty salons in Afghanistan

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Since returning to power nearly two years ago, the Taliban have been pushing women and girls out of public life again. They're not allowed to study beyond sixth grade. They're banned from most jobs. They can't even visit parks. Now the Taliban say they're shutting down women's beauty salons. To tell us more, NPR's Diaa Hadid is on the line. She covers Afghanistan. Diaa, good morning. Thank you so much for joining us.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: So tell us what happened.

HADID: Well, Michel, as you noted, over the past two years, the Taliban have been gradually enforcing rules that have largely confined women and girls to their homes. But some of the luckiest women were running businesses that cater to other women. But they received a blow last week when Taliban officials confirmed rumors that they'd revoked the licenses of some 3,000 beauty salons in Kabul. The thing is, a ban on salons can sound frivolous, but this is one of the few female-dominated industries in Afghanistan. And they have reliable business because they do extravagant makeovers for weddings. And it was also one of the few places where Afghan women could still congregate outside their homes.

MARTIN: So you've been able to speak to some of the women who've been affected by this. What have they told you?

HADID: Well, they're in a panic. There's dismay. Like, one beauty salon owner, Samia Faqiri - she was making good money for Afghanistan, about $700 a month. And she employed eight other women. And when she heard the news, she told us that she felt sick.

SAMIA FAQIRI: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: And she says she's been crying ever since. Her workers are crying. She's thinking about smuggling her family out of Afghanistan. And she asked us why the Taliban have it in for women. And she said this.

FAQIRI: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: She says, "Death is better than this. God should just kill us all. We're alive, but we're not living."

MARTIN: Oh, my goodness. That's - oh, dear. That's just very disturbing. So these are places that women could make a decent living. They could be together and enjoy some - I don't know - some pampering, I guess you would say. Did the authorities say why they're shutting them down?

HADID: Well, the spokesperson for the Ministry for the Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue - it's a long name for basically a morality ministry - tweeted a video where he said they were shutting down the salons because men were being pressured into going into debt to pay for extravagant wedding makeovers. And then he said women were getting procedures that were un-Islamic, like hair weaves and eyebrow shaping.

MARTIN: But these salons aren't exactly a secret. So why now? Why are the Taliban going after them now?

HADID: It's unclear. The Taliban's decision-making is generally opaque. But it's clear they're on the defensive about this specific ban because the Ministry for the Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue has been running interviews with women who support the ban, like one woman who said ladies emerged from the salons looking like cats and monkeys and said it was un-Islamic.

MARTIN: Has there been any international reaction to this? And does that even matter?

HADID: Well, yes and no. The U.N. has condemned this ban. So have Western diplomats. But they appear to have little leverage in Afghanistan. In fact, Taliban officials use a narrative of defying the West to whip up their base.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Diaa Hadid. Diaa, thank you so much.

HADID: You're welcome, Michel.

(SOUNDBITE OF LULLABIES FOR FALLING EMPIRES' "STARS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Michel Martin
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Diaa Hadid chiefly covers Pakistan and Afghanistan for NPR News. She is based in NPR's bureau in Islamabad. There, Hadid and her team were awarded a Murrow in 2019 for hard news for their story on why abortion rates in Pakistan are among the highest in the world.