05/12/2022, 09.04
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The misogyny of the new Turkmen president

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Serdar Berdymukhamedov tightens rules for women's clothing and appearance, with measures reminiscent of those imposed by the Taliban in Afghanistan. Fines of up to half a month's salary for violators. Many Turkmen women begin defying bans.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - The presidency of Serdar Berdymukhamedov has begun with measures to crack down on women's rights in Turkmenistan earning the newly elected leader a reputation as a "misogynist president." Not that his father Gurbanguly, now president of the Senate, was much more accommodating when it came to civil rights, but he did not seem to particularly resent the female section of the population as much as his 40-year-old son.

Turkmenistan is a large Muslim-majority country, but unlike its neighbors Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, it has never wanted to adopt strictly Qur'anic criteria of dress and behavior, giving preference to traditional Turkic clothes and costumes. Western-style clothes have always been frowned upon, especially blue-jeans, as well as Islamic-inspired hijabs. Recommended attire consists of a hand-embroidered, ankle-length, long-sleeved dress of brightly colored fabric. On the head, women must wear the "tubetejka" decorated with colored threads, often with a knotted headscarf.

Now Turkmen women are forbidden to use cosmetics, cannot ride alone in cars with males who are not their relatives (and must still sit in the back seats), or have plastic surgery on any part of the body. New restrictions then appear every day, not even if the Taliban of Afghanistan were in government, who moreover justify the censures precisely by referring to Koranic laws. In recent days dozens of Turkmen women have lost their jobs, or had to pay heavy fines (between 0 and 0, half the average salary) for breaking the new rules, so much so that unprecedented riots and protests are beginning to be feared.

"Tight-fitting" clothing in any form has also been banned, as has dyed hair, long nails or eyelashes, tattoos on the skin or eyelids, a fashion that had become popular among local women. Police are sent to all public places and shopping malls to stop reprobate women, especially in the capital Ašgabat, by having them remove their masks to protect against coronavirus (which continues to be unrecognized as a widespread disease in the country), especially to check for signs of lip enlargement.

Some people anonymously agreed to speak with Azattyk correspondents; drivers tell of being stopped constantly by traffic cops, and that after 8 p.m. not even a relative can be driven in, either in cabs or private cars. Women of the rest are forbidden to drive cars, although not officially; on the other hand, all new restrictions are "exhortative" in nature, but are enforced with draconian severity. Women are granted licenses after endless waiting and procedures, and are often considered expired well before the date marked on the document itself.

In many offices women are required to sign a statement saying 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." If you do not sign, dismissal is assured, and in any case, at the entrance, your outward appearance is checked, and managers can drop by at any time of the day to make sure there are no infractions. Especially under scrutiny are air hostesses.

Public protests are very rare in a very repressive country like Turkmenistan, but many say that the women's (and their partners') patience is running out, considering also the economic crisis that has been plaguing the population for years. Two women in the capital refused to pay the fine, taking the policemen to task and demanding to see the law prohibiting false eyelashes-a new era seems to be opening in Ašgabat.

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