- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 2, 2002

KABUL, Afghanistan Six years ago, Mehbooba moved her beauty parlor in a squalid Kabul housing estate underground when the Taliban barred women from working and the business of beauty didn't fit in with the regime's strict moral code.
Two months ago, she reopened her apartment-based "Yamarut Beauty Parlor" to the public, but this time it was soldiers of the Northern Alliance, having driven the Taliban from Kabul, who came knocking on the door seeking to impose similar conditions.
Seventeen years of war and rule by different factions have left Afghan women suffering under oppressive conditions. The exit of the Taliban raised hopes of a return of basic freedoms, but it appears to have provided only a short respite.
The continuing restrictions became apparent during a recent visit to Mehbooba's beauty parlor.
Mehbooba; her daughter, Elai; and their friend, Lina, debated the merits of the Indian film stars whose bosomy pictures lined the walls while rows of perming lotion, hair spray, lipstick, nail polish and hand-carved wooden curlers in baskets filled the bedroom that Mehbooba has turned into a secret Aladdin's cave of femininity.
On a shelf was a handpainted sign reading "Yamarut Beauty Parlor" that the 41-year-old beautician, trained in Moscow, had kept hidden during the Taliban's iron rule.
For six years, women from the neighboring apartments came here, drawn by word of mouth and hidden under their chadors, or shawls, to keep alive their femininity and, in a real sense, to protest.
The penalty for Mehbooba and her clients, under the Taliban, would have been a severe beating, although this never deterred her.
"During the Taliban period, we had to be fashionable," she explained. "Even though we weren't seen, it was important to us. It helped keep our spirits alive."
Amid the humor and frivolity that prevailed last month, it soon became clear that Mehbooba's beauty parlor is still considered subversive. As the women joked and laughed, there was a loud knock on the door.
Outside, there was a Northern Alliance soldier and a khaki-clad policeman, in new uniforms, accompanied by a shifty-looking man well-known to the residents as a longtime informer for the Taliban.
The policeman demanded to know what the foreigners were doing visiting an apartment "without permission." When the appropriate Foreign Ministry permits were produced, they asked why two men a photographer and a translator were visiting women.
Little, it seemed, has changed. Outside, Mehbooba, Elai, Lina and the other women of Kabul still move through the streets enveloped in blue and white chadors, like semi-invisible wraiths.
A small revolution has begun from the ground upward: it is now possible to catch glimpses of a fishnet covered ankle and a pair of black patent stilettos, both of which would have earlier merited a beating from the Taliban. But almost no women have dared remove their chadors.
"During the 1990s, when the mujahideen were here, we had no rights, and under the Taliban they disappeared completely," said Soraya, a motherly looking 57-year-old economist who runs the Afghan Women's Unity Association from her apartment close to Mehbooba's.
On a recent day, several women who had gathered at her apartment to join the group, tried to make Shogata, a pretty 14-year-old, show off her outfit, a fashionable velvet tunic and trousers; but she kept her chador wrapped tightly around her, only raising her face veil.
Shogata had begun wearing a chador a year ago, after a group of Taliban soldiers beat her and one of her friends on the legs and ankles, with cables, while the girls were on their way to an underground English class. "It's very difficult to see and it's hard to walk in," she said.
"But I'm still not sure about the situation. I'm afraid of these men on the streets because they have arms, and I'm afraid inside the house. They're not good people. I'm afraid they may come in."
Women's groups that work underground say the women's fears are not unfounded.
"People still remember the 1990s, when there were many cases of rape and kidnapping, and parents were forced to marry their daughters to commandos," a women's group member said.
In a sign, however symbolic, that the new regime is trying to encourage women's rights, two women have been included in the interim administration headed by Hamid Karzai.
And after the Northern Alliance took over Kabul, Afghans heard and saw female television-news presenters for the first time in six years.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide