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Women protest in Kabul over Taliban ban on beauty salons

Verifiable videos circulated online showing the Taliban using a water cannon and gunfire into the air to disperse protesters.


28 Jul 2023

Image: Afghan Witness. Posters of female models painted over at a Kabul beauty salon, 2022. 

On the morning of July 19, 2023, videos emerged on social media showing large groups of women protesting in front of beauty salons in Kabul. The women reportedly organised the protests in response to the Taliban’s nationwide ban on women’s beauty salons introduced on July 2. Despite the public opposition to the edict, on July 25, the Taliban announced that all beauty salons in Afghanistan must now close as a one-month deadline had passed.

According to Khaama Press, an Afghan online news service, there are over 12,000 women’s hair salons across Afghanistan and 3,100 women’s beauty salons in Kabul, with more than 60,000 women facing unemployment as a result of the ban. The protesting women, who claimed to be hairdressers and makeup artists, told Dunia Daily newspaper that working in beauty salons is their only way to earn a living.

On July 19, AW investigators verified and geolocated videos of the protests, which showed a group of women at various locations in the Shahr-e Naw area of Kabul as they gathered in front of local beauty salons.

Figure: Geolocation of the women’s protest in Kabul [34.5352111, 69.1714159].

The protesting group comprised dozens of women, most of whom had their faces covered. They held placards with slogans such as “bread, justice, work”, as seen below. 

Figure: Women holding placards with slogans such as “bread, justice, work”.

On the day of the protest, Afghanistan International released an interview with a woman who introduced herself as arepresentative of women working in beauty salons”. The woman stated the protest was “about justice and seeking the right to work”. She explained that the ban would have a negative impact as most women employed by the salons are “the head” and the “sole breadwinners” of their families, and the salons are their only source of income. 

The woman described how the Taliban first closed the street so journalists could not reach the female protesters. AW investigators found a photo on social media (seen below) which corroborated this claim. The image showed a large black vehicle on one end of the road, and a firefighting vehicle on the opposing end, blocking the movement of people in the street. In the middle, a small group of women is visible, as well as several Taliban foot soldiers.

Figure: A photograph shared on Twitter (cropped) showing a large black vehicle on one end of the road, and a firefighting vehicle on the opposite end, allegedly blocking the movement of people in the street.

In the Afghanistan International interview, the unnamed woman reported that the group was not allowed to hold their phones or chant slogans and were asked to “wait until the high-ranking officials arrive”. She explained that the protesters expected the Taliban to engage in discussion; however, firefighters arrived and used water hoses against the protesters. 

AW investigators found videos of the Taliban using a water cannon to disperse the protesters. A fire engine can also be seen, corroborating the claim that the firefighters participated in the suppression of the protest. The Taliban previously used this practice against female protesters in December 2022, following the ban on women attending university. The images below show screenshots of the Taliban and firefighters using a water cannon against female protesters.

Figure: Taliban and firefighters using water cannons against protesters on July 19. 

The woman interviewed by Afghanistan International added that the Taliban used aerial gunfire and “electric devices” to disperse the protesters and “became violent” after the protesters tried to stay together. Although it is unclear what the woman meant by “electric devices”, she is most likely referring to tasers. In another video shared by local media outlet Radio Azadi, a woman also claimed the Taliban used tasers against the protesters and accused Taliban members of electrocuting her. AW investigators could not verify the presence of such devices during the protest; however, various videos contained audible gunfire.

The Afghan Women’s Justice movement shared a video of the protest in an Instagram post stating, “Today, a group of female hairdressers protested to make their voice heard by the authorities, but as usual, they were suppressed and severely beaten by the Taliban.” The group did not confirm their participation in the event.  Another group, the Purple Saturdays Movement in Takhar, shared an indoor protest video on Facebook to express support for the protesting women. Although women’s rights organisations supported and amplified the protest, they did not claim direct involvement. This could indicate that, unlike most previous protests, the demonstration was organic and organised by members of the public, rather than the vocal women’s rights movements.

The protest and the Taliban’s response attracted attention from international media agencies and journalists, while UNAMA expressed deep concern over “reports of the forceful suppression of a peaceful protest.”

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