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Clear Road Ahead? Turkmenistan Quietly Removes Curbs On Women Wanting To Drive

Ashgabat's traffic police were not available for comment on the issue of women's driving licenses. (file photo)
Ashgabat's traffic police were not available for comment on the issue of women's driving licenses. (file photo)

ASHGABAT -- The traffic police directorate in Ashgabat has says it has started accepting applications from women looking to get or extend their driver's licenses almost two years after imposing unannounced constraints on female drivers in the male-dominated Central Asian country.

RFE/RL correspondents reported from the Turkmen capital that, without any official announcement, the change was implemented as of December 1, ending a campaign that had started with arbitrary stops, the issuance of citations, and on-the-spot confiscations of licenses from female drivers.

But over the past four days, women in Ashgabat said they have been collecting en masse all of the documentation needed -- including forms, passports, medical reports, marriage certificates, confirmations of permanent addresses, car-ownership papers, and vehicle technical certificates -- to get or renew their licenses as soon as possible after word of the change began to spread.

Some people told RFE/RL that they were racing to file their applications as rumor spread that they will be accepted only until December 12, while others said they were told by police that each application will be decided by an unspecified special commission.

Ashgabat police officials were not available for comment on the issue.

Women in Turkmenistan have been fighting against the campaign ever since it began in early 2019.

Some filed lawsuits with local courts and turned to the country's ombudsman, saying that the Turkmen Constitution guarantees equal rights for men and women.

In October, around 100 women staged a rally, an extraordinary event in the tightly controlled Central Asian nation, in the northeastern region of Lebap, demanding that their driver's licenses be renewed. At the time, local officials promised to look into the situation.

Turkment Prsident Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov (file photo)
Turkment Prsident Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov (file photo)

Authoritarian President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has ruled the country with a iron fist and has established a pervasive cult of personality since becoming Turkmenistan’s leader in 2006 after the death of his autocratic predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov.

Government critics and human rights groups say Berdymukhammedov has suppressed dissent and made few changes in the restrictive country during his reign.

Several years ago, traffic police in the former Soviet republic forced all car owners in Ashgabat to paint their vehicles white saying it was Berdymukhammedov's favorite color.