Turkmen Women Refused Boarding On Dubai Flight Over Cosmetic Changes

By RFE/RL's Turkmen Service

ASHGABAT -- Several women in Turkmenistan say they were not allowed to board a plane to Dubai because they had cosmetic procedures such as Botoxed lips, fake eyelashes, and nails.

One of the women, a 40-year-old resident of the western Balkan Province, told RFE/RL on November 22 that migration officers claimed that facial-recognition software on their computers "would not be able to identify" the women because of their augmented lips or other parts of their faces.

The women questioned the reasons they were stopped from boarding the plane, noting it came just months after Turkmen authorities introduced restrictions for women, banning Botox, hair-dyeing, mascara, artificial eyelashes and nails, as well as tight dresses.

"When they sell air tickets to Dubai, they do not warn us about the facial requests. The ticket also does not carry any instructions on that matter. When just four hours are left before the flight, migration officers start studying our faces and in the very last moment say that they cannot allow us to board.

"First of all, it is a huge financial blow, secondly, it is psychological pressure. Our freedom of movement and gender rights are being fully violated here," a woman who identified herself as Mahri from Balkan Province told RFE/RL.

"The tone the international airport's employees talked to us in such situations is as if women and girls change their facial features with the aim of becoming prostitutes while in Dubai," Mahri added.

Turkmenistan is one of the most repressive countries in the world. President Serdar Berdymukhammedov took over the former Soviet republic in March after his authoritarian father, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, ruled the Central Asian country with an iron fist from 2006.

Women, especially from rural locations, often have to travel abroad to find jobs as the economic situation in the country gets worse.

Adding to their difficulties, authorities and police in April started limiting their behavior in public by prohibiting them holding men's hands in public and from sitting in the front seats of vehicles.

Meanwhile, Turkmen media outlets that are fully under state control have started publishing instructions for women's behavior in recent months, ordering them to "passionately respect" their husbands.

Last year, dozens of Turkmen activists residing abroad held protests in Turkey, the United States, and the European Union, calling on the international community to pay more attention to the situation regarding human rights and civil freedoms in Turkmenistan.