Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, and penalties range from three to 15 years in prison. Rape of a person younger than age 14 is punishable by 10 to 25 years in prison. A cultural bias against reporting or acknowledging rape made it difficult to determine the extent of the problem.
The law criminalizes domestic violence, including spousal abuse, through provisions in the criminal code that address intentional infliction of injury. Penalties range from fines to 15 years in prison, based on the extent of the injury, although enforcement of the law varied. Anecdotal reports indicated domestic violence against women went unreported; most victims of domestic violence kept silent because they were unaware of their rights or feared increased violence from husbands and relatives.
On August 26, the government presented the sample survey conducted in February – April 2020, on Health and Status of a Woman in the Family in Turkmenistan. The survey covered women from 3,569 households ages 18-59 living in all provinces and Ashgabat. The survey was carried out with the technical support of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), with funding from the government and support from international organizations. According to the survey, one in eight, or 12 percent, of women have experienced physical or sexual abuse by a husband or partner at least once in their lives; one in six women in the country, or 16 percent, have experienced some form of abuse by an intimate partner.
Sexual Harassment: No law specifically prohibits sexual harassment. Reports suggested sexual harassment continued to take place in the workplace.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. Working with UNFPA, the government whenever possible provided health services including HIV prophylaxis, contraceptive medication, forensic checks, and psychological assistance to survivors of sexual violence within 72 hours of a reported attack.
The law states that women have the right to medical care including prenatal care and safe and effective contraception. Women have the right to freely use contraception. Some women in remote areas give birth at home rather than make a long or difficult journey to a hospital or clinic. UNFPA reported 74 percent of women ages 15 to 49 utilized some type of birth control for family planning purposes. According to UNFPA the adolescent birth rate per 1,000 girls ages 15-19 was 22 out of 1,000 or 2.2 percent.
According to the government, 10 types of modern contraceptives are included in the list of vital drugs and are dispensed free of charge for women at risk (women with chronic diseases; women who have eight or more children; and adolescent girls ages 15-19). Survivors of sexual violence are provided abortion services.
Discrimination: By law women have full legal equality with men, including equal pay, access to loans, the ability to start and own a business, and access to government jobs. Nevertheless, women continued to experience discrimination due to cultural biases, and the government did not enforce the law effectively.
On April 19, Turkmen.news reported on the ban of all services of beauty salons that involve putting “foreign objects” into the body. Turkmen.news stated that Ashgabat authorities sent directives to schools, technical and professional schools in Turkmenabat and some districts of Lebap Province on the need to promote the rejection of cosmetics, hair coloring, manicure, pedicure, and tattoos. Some Turkmen.news sources claimed that state agencies introduced a dress code for women, i.e., underpants under dresses.
On June 15, Turkmen.news reported that women were refused the right to renew their driving licenses under the pretext of not owning a car. Reportedly, traffic police refuse to register a car for women less than 40 years old. Women, especially under 40 years of age, are not able to obtain new driving licenses under the pretense of failing the mandatory driving test. Some women failed the test more than fifty times while men reportedly typically pass in a few tries.
In April The Diplomat reported that an educational meeting titled “Standards of Turkmen national traditions, the sanctity of marriage and family and etiquette” was held in the State Energy Institute for women instructors and students. Ten days later, Current Time Asia reported that women employees of state institutions and enterprises of the Mary region must vow to stop using cosmetics and hair colorants, getting manicures, wearing figure-fitting clothes, and using injectables like Botox. In addition, women were required to pledge they would wear traditional dresses paired with embroidered balak (pants). Failure to comply with the pledge could result in dismissal.
In August a new survey, entitled Health and Status of a Woman in the Family in Turkmenistan, noted the prevalence of economic violence among women who are married or in a relationship and have their own income in three regions (Dashoguz, Lebap and Mary Velayats) was higher than the national average. The data show that the respondents often faced a situation where their husband or partner took their money. Residents of Ashgabat were also more likely than the national average to be forced to leave their jobs or to refuse a job offer under pressure from their husband or partner.
Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination
The law provides for equal rights and freedoms for all citizens.
The law designates Turkmen as the official language, and it is now the primary language taught in public schools, although the law also provides for the rights of speakers of minority languages. Russian remained prevalent in commerce, but Turkmen was becoming more prevalent in everyday life. Outside the capital, Turkmen was widely used. The government continued to transition toward conducting official business solely in Turkmen.
Non-Turkmen speakers in government noted that some avenues for promotion and job advancement were not available to them, and only a handful of nonethnic Turkmen occupied high-level jobs in government. Applicants for government jobs had to provide information about their family background going back three generations.
Birth Registration: By law a child derives citizenship from his or her parents. The Law on Civil Status Acts provides universal birth registration to any child born within the country’s territory, and a child born to stateless persons possessing permanent resident status in the country is also a citizen.
Child Abuse: Child abuse is criminalized and is outlined by the law as one of the criteria for deprivation of parental rights.
The government survey on Health and Status of a Woman in the Family in Turkmenistan indicated that 1.6 percent of women experienced sexual abuse in childhood (up to 15 years of age).
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18. There were no credible reports of child, early, and forced marriage.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The legal age of consent is 16. The law forbids the production of pornographic materials or objects for distribution, as well as the advertisement or trade in text, movies or videos, graphics, or other objects of a pornographic nature, including those involving children.
There is no organized Jewish community in the country. In 2016 it was estimated that 200 to 250 Jews resided in the country. There were no reports of antisemitic activity.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity or Expression, or Sex Characteristics
Criminalization: Sexual contact between men is illegal. The law also stipulates sentences of up to 20 years for the spread of HIV or other sexually transmitted infections through same-sex contact. The law does not mention same-sex sexual contact between women. Enforcement of the law was selective.
Violence against LGBTQI+ Persons: Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) individuals under arrest reported being subjected to blackmail, harassment, extortion, and humiliating tactics by state authorities. There were no reports of violence against LGBTQI+ persons, but reporting was constrained by LGBTQI+ individuals’ fear of laws criminalizing LGBTQI+ status.
Discrimination: Antidiscrimination laws do not apply to LGBTQI+ persons, and discrimination was pervasive.
Availability of Legal Gender Recognition: The government provided no legal protection to transgender individuals or recognition of their gender identity.
Involuntary or Coercive Medical or Psychological Practices Specifically Targeting LGBTQI+ Individuals: There are no reports on the practice of so-called conversion therapies.
Restrictions of Freedom of Expression, Association, or Peaceful Assembly: Freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly are all technically provided for according to law, but these freedoms were heavily restricted for LGBTQI+ individuals, especially the freedom of peaceful assembly.
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, and the provision of state services in other areas. Nonetheless, practical application, such as the accessibility of both public and private buildings, varied. Members of the disability rights community reported that persons with disabilities were generally unable to find satisfactory employment due to discrimination.
The government provided subsidies and pensions for persons with disabilities as well as housing, free health care, and tax-exempt status.