This week, Turkmenistan’s Foreign Ministry welcomed a delegation from the UN’s Division for the Advancement of Women to discuss the UN annual strategy for advancing women in Central Asia and promoting gender equality in Turkmenistan. The situation of women in Turkmenistan indeed requires attention. This past summer, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee drew attention to the status of women in Turkmenistan in their report "Women: Turkmenistan’s Second-Class Citizens,” that showed women’s inequality in employment, education, healthcare, and public and family life; and highlighted religious and cultural prejudices against women, as well as widespread domestic violence. Whereas the country has good laws on the books that protect women’s equality, the report said, in reality, this serves only as a façade of good intentions. In reality, concluded the report, Turkmen women and men are equal primarily in one area – they are equally vulnerable to injustice and arbitrariness, from which no one in Turkmenistan is safe. The Asian Development Bank funded a seminar in Ashgabat addressing the environmental impact of construction projects in Turkmenistan, such as the “North-South Transnational Railway." The environmental impact of construction only adds to the numerous environmental problems Turkmenistan faces, which include desertification, the drying out of the Aral Sea, and chemical pollution, not to mention the impacts of mining energy resources. President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov continues to lavish state funds into his pet project, the Avaza resort on the Caspian and this week, he flew there for the opening of four new luxury hotels. According to unconfirmed reports, there are approximately one dozen hotels in Avaza, out of the 60 planned in total. Turkmenistan’s Initiative for Human Rights (TIHR) reported that the hotels are usually too expensive for local Turkmen vacationers and largely inaccessible to foreigners, due to Turkmenistan’s very strict visa regime; it seems unlikely that Avaza will be able to recoup its costs any time soon. In a measure intended to “humanize” the laws in the country, Turkmenistan decriminalised certain acts previously considered criminal. The new Administrative Code was amended to include assault, unintentional infliction of mild injuries, slander, and other violations as administrative infringements. At the same time, the Administrative Code envisions such punishments as detention, personal search, and the inspection of personal belongings, vehicles, facilities, goods or other property for administrative violations. In sum, the humanizing impulse seems to have had little impact in reality.
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