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Au Naturel In Ashgabat: Turkmenistan Targets Women's Beauty Products

As part of the latest restrictions, female state workers have also been told to refrain from extravagant embroidery on the upper part of their dresses. (file photo)

The government in Turkmenistan has long been known for strictly controlling all aspects of its citizens' lives and restricting their freedom.

But Turkmen officials have taken it a step further recently by banning women who work for the state from coloring their hair or wearing nail polish. Applying false eyelashes or laminating one's eyebrows is also forbidden.

Violating any of the rules of the informal ban could result in the loss of one's job.

No official reason was given for the latest decision that was announced to employees at meetings held in schools and at government agencies, an RFE/RL correspondent in Ashgabat reported on April 24, citing several women who were in attendance.

While many are unhappy with the ban, no one dared to voice their displeasure with the new restrictions, the women told RFE/RL.

The Turkmen government -- which controls all media, most of the economy, and enforces a myriad of social rules on its citizens -- is considered among the most repressive in the world and doesn't tolerate public criticism or free speech.

A similar ban on women's beauty products was imposed on state workers in the Central Asian country of some 5.8 million people in April 2018. But those restrictions had gradually been eased, the women said.

Hairdressers and beauty-salon owners were also informed about the new rules, RFE/RL's correspondent reported.

It was clarified by state officials at the meetings that the nail-polish ban applies both to fingernails and toenails. But it's unclear if the women are allowed to get a regular manicure or pedicure without coloring their nails or if they would be allowed to have a transparent varnish applied.

The restrictions have not been announced or discussed by state media outlets.

Dress Code

The new rules come two months after a Turkmen province prohibited men from coloring their graying hair.

The Turkmen government had previously introduced a dress code for women working for the state that consists of long, traditional embroidered dresses with a hem at the ankle.

Headwear -- either a handkerchief or traditional hat -- is optional.

As part of the latest restrictions, the state workers have also been told to refrain from extravagant embroidery on the upper part of their dresses.

Instead they are told to stick to "a narrow, simple, and modest pattern."

The ban was first announced to employees in the Gokdepe district in Ahal Province, and the instructions were given in Ashgabat, the capital, soon afterwards, RFE/RL reported.

Ashgabat city authorities and the state-run Central Council of the Women's Union of Turkmenistan did not respond to RFE/RL requests for comment on the new regulations for women.

Turkmen police have in the past fined women who violated the dress code.

Men have also not been spared from the government's strict rules.

In early February, authorities in Lebap Province prohibited all men above the age of 40 from coloring their gray hair.

A combination photo of Turkmen President Berdymukhammedov in 2017 (left) and 2019.
A combination photo of Turkmen President Berdymukhammedov in 2017 (left) and 2019.

That ban on touching-up gray roots began two years ago and was linked to authoritarian President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov's new image.

The president -- who had always dyed his hair pitch black -- disappeared from public view for several weeks in the summer of 2018 and returned with a new salt-and-pepper look. It was the first time he had appeared with gray hair.

Men who work in the country's public sector also aren't allowed to wear their hair long or to grow a beard.

The Turkmen authorities' latest move comes as the rest of the world focuses on the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. Along with North Korea and Central Asian neighbor Tajikistan, Turkmenistan is one the few countries that has not reported a single coronavirus infection.

Written by Farangis Najibullah based on reporting by RFE/RL's Turkmen Service
  • 16x9 Image

    RFE/RL's Turkmen Service

    RFE/RL's Turkmen Service is the only international Turkmen-language media reporting independently on political, economic, cultural, and security issues from inside one of the the world’s most reclusive countries.

  • 16x9 Image

    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.