An Ashgabat mother who’s been driving for two decades has found herself stranded after authorities recently refused to extend her driver’s license in what looks like a fresh blow to women drivers in the male-dominated Central Asian country.
The woman, who doesn’t want her identity revealed for fear of reprisals, says more than a dozen visits to the relevant authorities have elicited no explanation for why they derailed her routine application for a renewal.
She’s never gotten a ticket, she says. “When I demanded that one official show me some official document” to explain the cutoff, she adds, he described “a verbal instruction from above.”
“He said, ‘Please understand me: I can’t accept your applications.'”
She says driving is essential to her family life.
Several other women in the capital have shared similar stories with RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service about not being allowed to apply for extensions in the past several months. Turkmen driver’s licenses require renewal every 10 years.
Turkmenistan suffers from a legacy of Soviet bureaucracy and bribery is rampant. But informal polling of male drivers gave no indication of any similar trend among men.
The women told RFE/RL that while obstacles to license renewal had existed for some time, they believed the flat refusal to accept their applications began only months ago.
The accusations come against a backdrop of claims that Turkmenistan has already taken measures to discourage women from driving, including arbitrary stops and citations as well as on-the-spot confiscations of licenses.
The mother who lost her license says there was another sign that other women were being targeted specifically. “When [I] asked when the authorities are going to issue licenses again, the official said, ‘As soon as they start [issuing licenses again], there will be rumors in the city about it and you’ll find out,'” she says.
Dozens of women have described having their licenses seized by traffic-police officers under thin pretexts like missing spare tires or lack of a first-aid kit.
In February, opposition publication Chronicles Of Turkmenistan said 20 or so female drivers were stopped and inspected at a single traffic post on Bitarap Turkmenistan Avenue in one day alone.
In September, RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service reported that traffic officers were stopping female drivers en masse on downtown roads and summarily taking their licenses before taking them to the central traffic-police headquarters.
Turkmen authorities have not publicly commented on allegations that they are singling out female drivers despite repeated attempts by RFE/RL to get official comment.