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Thrown in prison for working as a female hairdresser

It was after 8 a.m. when there was a knock on the door of my house. I asked my daughter Noor* to open it. Four women were outside. They asked that I do the make-up for one of their daughters who was going to be a bride. I replied that my hairdressing salon is closed, and the Taliban has recently warned that we have no right to make up a woman, even at home. The girl’s mother pleaded with me to change my mind. Because the women were acquaintances of my husband, I felt I had to accept their request. 

Previously, when agents of the Taliban were informed that I was working from home, they warned me that I would be arrested and imprisoned if caught violating their order. I was very afraid and had a feeling that something bad would happen. My hands were shaking as I applied make-up on the girl’s face. I kept one ear out for noise outside the door. Soon, there was a knock. I told Noor to hide the shoes of my visitors because, if it is the Taliban, they will arrest everyone. 

Before I opened the door, I called who was outside. A woman replied, “I am an officer of vice and virtue.” Seeing that Noor had collected the shoes, I opened the door. As the women entered my house, they asked where my customers were. I said that they are not customers but were close relatives who had come as guests. They didn’t believe me, saying, “Where are your disciples? Call everyone to come. You are irredeemable.” I found out later that neighbours had reported to the Taliban that I was working from home.  

Two members of the Taliban also entered the house and blocked my children and the women who had come for a make-up session from leaving. I loudly told Noor to close the door and not let her little brothers and sisters leave the house. Then, I stood in front of the Taliban and said, “You have no right to enter my house.” 

They said that if I didn’t let them search my home, I would be arrested and they would confiscate all my equipment, which was locked in a small room near the door. I agreed, saying, “I will give all the make-up equipment and you can take me wherever you take me, but don’t do anything to my family members and guests.” Two female officers and two male officers emptied that small room of my make-up and hairdressing equipment and loaded everything on their Ranger.  

I had bought each of those items with great enthusiasm. During the first time the Taliban were in power, my family were refugees in Tajikistan, which is where I learned hairdressing. I opened a hairdressing salon after we returned to Afghanistan and had been working in the sector since 2005. Now my craft has become my crime.  

I put on my burqa and they forced me in the Ranger.  At the police headquarters, a woman who worked there told me to take off my burqa and enter the room. I refused. She hit my legs and I fell into the room. All the Taliban laughed at me. My tears flowed from embarrassment. I got up, smiling painfully though my throat was filled with anger as I didn’t want to cry and surrender to them.  

One of the seated Taliban members put his feet on the table and told me to sit. “Thirty of you are after a woman to take her livelihood from her. Why are you so cruel?” I responded. “What happens if I sit here?” A man who seemed more authoritative than the others got angry, saying, “I will imprison you shameless woman for one year and fine you more than 100,000 afghani with the language you speak.” I remained silent but their decision was already made.  

I was transferred to the women’s prison, which was in the former Jawzjan police headquarters. The communal cell was cramped, dark, and dirty. In a room of around five square metres, 20 women were imprisoned, including me. There was an old, stained carpet on the floor. The other women were mostly silent as a senior Taliban leader came close and mockingly said, “What are your orders, beautiful girls?” He was making fun of us.  

A female prison guard warned me softly, “My daughter, don’t get angry and don’t make too much noise because they have guns and force. They will bring harm to you or your family, and later your regret will be useless. They are very cruel.” 

I thought about what would happen to me if I raised my voice again: rape, murder, kidnapping of family members, a huge fine, or a terrible prison experience. I quickly put those things out of my mind and tried to be silent, like everyone else. The male jailer let us talk to our family for a fee of 100 afghani per minute. I called my husband and told him that I was in prison, and he should come and save me. I was sobbing under my burqa. I finished my one minute and sat down again. There was no room to lie down and rest. With all every insult and humiliation by the Taliban, I felt smaller and smaller.  

As night arrived, I was feeling more hopeless with each passing second. Finally, my husband came. He freed me by paying 40,000 afghani, which he had borrowed, and by giving a guarantee that I would not work as a beautician in any way.  

I have not had a moment of peace since that day in November 2023. I am always afraid and worried about my future, and that of my daughters and my students. What will we do if the situation continues? 

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the interviewee and writer. Mahtab Safi is the pseudonym of a Zan Times journalist in Afghanistan.