The order issued last month forces the closure of thousands of beauty parlours nationwide run by women – sometimes the only source of income for households – and outlaws one of the few remaining opportunities for them to socialise away from the home.
“Don’t take my bread and water,” read a sign carried by one of the protesters on Butcher Street, which boasts a concentration of the capital’s salons.
Public protests are rare in Afghanistan, and frequently dispersed by force, but about 50 women took part in Wednesday’s gathering and quickly attracted the attention of security personnel.
Protesters later shared videos and photos with journalists that showed authorities using a firehose to disperse them as shots could be heard in the background.
“Today, we arranged this protest to talk and negotiate,” said a salon worker, whose name has not been published for security reasons.
“But today, no one came to talk to us, to listen to us. They didn’t pay any attention to us and after a while, they dispersed us by aerial firing and water cannon.”
“We are here for justice,” said another protester who identified herself as Farzana. “We want work, food and freedom.”
Farzana later said the women were going to the UN mission in Afghanistan, urging protesters to stay together.
One protester told The Associated Press news agency the demonstration started at about 10am (05:30 GMT) in the Shar-e-Naw area of the capital. She did not want to give her name for fear of reprisals.
“The purpose of our demonstration was that they [the Taliban] should reconsider and reverse the decision to close beauty salons because this is about our lives,” she said.
The protest continued into the early afternoon, when the Taliban arrived to break up the crowd, she said. They used tasers on the demonstrators.
“They put two or three of our friends in the car and took them,” she said.
In late June the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice gave salons a month to close down, saying the grace period would allow them to use up stock.
It said it made the order because extravagant sums spent on makeovers caused hardships for poor families, and that some treatments at the salons were un-Islamic.
Too much makeup prevented women from proper ablutions for prayer, the ministry said, while eyelash extensions and hair weaving were also forbidden.
Beauty parlours mushroomed across Kabul and other Afghan cities in the 20 years that US-led forces occupied the country.
They were seen as a safe place to gather and socialise away from men and provided vital business opportunities for women.
A report to the UN’s Human Rights Council last month by Richard Bennett, the special rapporteur for Afghanistan, said the plight of women and girls in the country “was among the worst in the world”.
“Grave, systematic and institutionalized discrimination against women and girls is at the heart of Taliban ideology and rule, which also gives rise to concerns that they may be responsible for gender apartheid,” Bennett said.
Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhunzada, who rarely appears in public and rules by decree from the Taliban’s birthplace in Kandahar, said last month Afghan women were being saved from “traditional oppressions” by the adoption of Islamic governance and their status as “free and dignified human beings” restored.
He said in a statement marking the Eid al-Adha holiday that steps had been taken to provide women with a “comfortable and prosperous life according to Islamic Sharia [Islamic law]”.
Women have also mostly been barred from working for the UN or NGOs, and thousands have been sacked from government jobs or are being paid to stay at home.