Taliban forces in Afghanistan fired shots into the air and used fire hoses Wednesday to forcefully disperse dozens of women staging protests in Kabul over a recent nationwide ban on beauty salons.
Witnesses said the incident happened as around 30 female owners and workers gathered outside their beauty parlors in a central part of the capital to demand the Taliban reverse the ban.
Protesters accused security forces of beating them with batons and snatching mobile phones from some of them to stop them from filming the violence. Rally participants carried banners that read: "Livelihood, justice, work and education."
Video posted on social media shows Taliban forces resorting to aerial firing and spraying protesters with water.
Taliban authorities did not immediately respond to the allegations.
"Reports of the forceful suppression of a peaceful protest by women against the ban on beauty salons – the latest denial of women's rights in #Afghanistan – are deeply concerning," the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said on Twitter. "Afghans have the right to express views free from violence. De facto authorities must uphold this."
In early July, the Ministry for the Prevention of Vice and Propagation of Virtue ordered hundreds of beauty parlors across Afghanistan to close within a month. It noted that the decision had stemmed from a decree issued by the reclusive Taliban supreme leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada.
In a subsequent video statement, a ministry spokesman defended the ban on beauty salons, saying they "implant hair and pluck eyebrows, which are against the Sharia (Islamic law)." Additionally, the Taliban said salons burden men with unnecessary and excessive costs during their wedding ceremonies when brides are taken to these facilities.
Owners and workers have since staged several rallies in Kabul and elsewhere in the country, appealing to Akhundzada to reverse the decree to prevent thousands of women-led households from being impoverished. They deny salons engage in any un-Islamic practices, saying they strictly adhere to personal hygiene and cosmetic services.
The ban marks the latest in a series of sweeping restrictions imposed on Afghan women by the fundamentalist Taliban government, or the so-called Islamic Emirate, effectively blocking their access to public life and education.
Since seizing power in August 2021, the Taliban have indefinitely barred teenage girls from attending schools beyond the sixth grade and blocked female students from university classes. Women are not allowed to visit public parks, gyms, and bathhouses.
The restrictions have outraged the international community, with the United Nations and human rights groups denouncing the de facto Afghan administration as a "gender-apartheid regime" and accusing it of trying to squeeze women out of public life.
No country has recognized the Taliban government. The U.N. and the United States maintain that curbs on women's rights must be lifted before they consider granting legitimacy to the de facto Afghan authorities.
Taliban leaders justify the policies, maintaining they are aligned with Afghan culture and Sharia, claims scholars in other Islamic countries dispute and reject.