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Interactions Between Males and Females

Muslim women in Turkmenistan have enjoyed more freedom than those in other societies, and never conformed to stereotypes about Muslims. Turkmen women are neither required to wear the veil nor be secluded. Because of their highly prized skills, they are visible and active members of Turkmen life. Yet one should not expect gender equality within the nation. Women are often forbidden to travel without a male companion. Women who go out alone risk the label “prostitute,” especially in the rural areas. Forced marriages are a problem, particularly in rural areas. Although polygamy is illegal, there is evidence that it is practiced with impunity, and a woman has no recourse if her husband takes another wife.

In Muslim families, the daughter-in-law's role is to care for the house and the children and prepare the food. Her status in the family is low. She and her father-in-law are not permitted to converse with each other. How well she is treated varies from family to family.

Following independence, there has been a move away from the Soviet-inspired notion of equality between the sexes. President Niyazov’s famed book Ruhnama suggests that a man should be the head of the family, while a woman should strive to increase her husband’s social position. Women should also keep the house clean and provide hospitality to visitors. Such notions reinforce traditional stereotypes that women are responsible for the home and taking care of the family. Education for women has fallen behind that of men because of the high costs, and families generally choose to educate boys over girls.

Especially in rural areas, women have almost exclusive responsibility for the home. A new bride moving into her husband’s extended household has low status within the family. Domestic abuse against women appears to be high, but the government releases no statistics. While the government frequently enforces criminal penalties against abusers, few cases are actually brought to the courts.

Whether personal faith is weak or strong, Islamic traditions still shape Turkmen social interaction and family life. In terms of male and female interactions, this means a girl guards her virginity and remains with her family until she marries. There is no dating before marriage, and unmarried females avoid being seen in the company of males outside their families, to prevent their honor being questioned.