In May 2022, media sources* both within and outside the Republic of Turkmenistan reported that the Turkmenistan government had introduced restrictions on women’s appearance and beauty culture, as well as on personal freedoms related to travel and abortion access.
According to Radio Liberty, the new rules were imposed shortly after a new president of the country, Serdar Berdymukhammedov, took office, replacing his father, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, who ruled the country for 16 years.
Notably, there has been no official announcement or explanation for the new regulations, but authorities reportedly introduced the informal sanctions in April to “mitigate ‘foreign’ trends harming ‘Turkmencilik’ (Turkmen traditional values).”
In April 2022, the state news agency of Turkmenistan published information stating that government institutions had started holding special educational meetings for women, in which “[s]tandards of national traditions, sanctity of marriage, family and etiquette” are discussed.
According to the Central Asian Bureau for Analytical Reporting, a regional analytical, informational, and educational platform, the government decisions are being enforced by local authorities and law enforcement agencies across the country.
Restrictions on Women’s Appearance
According to Radio Liberty, the government’s restrictions on women’s appearance amount to a virtual ban on a range of beauty services and most cosmetic procedures, including eyelash and nail extensions, hair dyeing, gel manicures, eyebrow microblading, lip fillers, and all types of beauty injections. To have plastic surgery on any part of the body is also now outlawed.
To enforce these regulations, the police have conducted raids in public places and offices. They have detained women wearing false eyelashes or nails and taken them to police stations, allegedly forcing them to “do away with” their beauty accessories and fining them the equivalent to US$140.
Dozens of beauty salons across the country have stopped their activities after receiving a warning from the police about violating the ban on offering “unauthorized” procedures and services to clients. Beauty parlor owners who violate the ban may be fined the equivalent of US$285 or jailed for 15 days.
In Turkmenistan, as a result of the ongoing campaign against women, a female employee of a government agency or a company is required to sign a document pledging that “if I cause shame to the company I work for by my dress or behavior, by breaking rules at work or outside the office, I agree that I should be removed from the position I hold.” Failure to comply with these requirements results in automatic dismissal.
Furthermore, new restrictions reportedly have been placed on “Western-style” women’s clothing, with Turkmen women no longer being allowed to wear “tight-fitting” clothes, such as blue jeans or swimsuits, or Western-style white wedding dresses. Instead, the authorities encourage Turkmen women to wear national attire consisting of a hand-embroidered, ankle-length, long-sleeved dress of brightly colored fabric and the tubetejka (national hat) decorated with colored threads, often with a knotted headscarf.
Restrictions on Travel and Abortion
Turkmen authorities have also banned women from riding in cars with men who are not family members, and traffic police regularly stop cars and demand evidence from women that they are a relative of the driver.
In addition, woman are now prohibited from sitting in the front seat of a car, next to the driver, and male taxi drivers are forbidden from offering rides to women.
According to media reports, the period during which an abortion can be performed has also been shortened from 12 weeks to five weeks.A number of women’s rights organizations have called for the international community’s intervention and the removal of these restrictions affecting female health and freedom of choice.
*Because publication of legal acts in Turkmenistan is irregular, the author relied on media reports in preparing this article.