Azerbaijani traditionalism as a cause of gender inequality.

Azerbaijani traditionalism as a cause of gender inequality.

March 8 is International Women's Day. Despite the glorious history of women's liberation from male oppression, today Azerbaijan remains on the list of countries where the traditionalist population classifies the "beautiful half" as the worst category of the population. This is not the fault of the State, which has done a lot for real gender equality.  The Azerbaijani mentality with Muslim ideas about the place of women in the family and the state is to blame for the unequal social relations that have developed.

The place of women in relation to the State

The number of women  in Azerbaijan is not  so higher than men. In absolute numbers, the ratio is as follows: out of 2,474,697 citizens of the country under the age of 15, boys - 1,312,116, girls - 1,162,687 people.  The figures for this population group indicate a preference for the birth of boys in young families.  But aborting fetuses in order to prevent the birth of girls in the country is punishable by law. In the group over 14 and under 65 years of age (7,503,337 people), men - 3,690,286, women - 3,813,051. Women in Azerbaijan, as elsewhere in the world, live longer than men. In the population over 64 years of age (687,842 people), there are 249,475 men and 438,368 women.

On March 5, the State Statistics Committee of Azerbaijan published a traditional report on gender well-being in the country on the eve of the women's holiday.  It says that according to the data of 2023, women in Azerbaijan make up 50.2% of the country's population.

82.7% of teachers in general education schools are women, 79.4% in secondary specialized educational institutions, and 58.7% in universities.   Two thirds of doctors in the country are women. In general education schools, 46.6% of students are girls.  In secondary specialized educational institutions, 62.5% of students are girls, and in universities – half.

Women make up 59.2% of the country's researchers. Over the past 10 years, the number of female Doctor of Science in the country has increased 1.6 times, and Doctor of Philosophy 1.5 times. There are 7 women among the full members of the National Academy of Sciences, and 9 among the corresponding members.

The number of women among the employed population of the country is 47.9%. The proportion of women among civil servants is 29.4%, individual entrepreneurs - 22.7%.

The number of women among the deputies is growing. In 1990, 4.3% of MPs were women, in 2000 - 10.7%, now - 17.9%. Sudaba Gafarova has been the Chairman of the Parliament for several years.  The First Vice-President of Azerbaijan is Mehriban Aliyeva.

The number of women who have the right to drive vehicles is growing. In 2008, the proportion of women among the holders of rights was 4.6%, in 2023 - 12%.

Universal suffrage was introduced in Azerbaijan in 1918 by the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, which was overthrown in 1920 by the army of Soviet Russia. And in the United States, women were given the right to vote only in 1920.

According to the Constitution of the modern Republic of Azerbaijan, the new Family Code of the Republic of Azerbaijan, as well as international conventions supported by Azerbaijan, men and women have equal rights and freedoms and are equal before the law. The Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender. In 1995, Azerbaijan signed the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. In 2006, the Azerbaijani Parliament adopted the law "On guarantees of Gender Equality (men and women)". According to the law, women and men have equal rights and responsibilities in terms of employment, career development and salary levels.  In South Korea, until today, women receive 37% less salary than men for the same job.

Traditionalism of society in the gender context

Despite the progressive legislation on gender equality, which is prone to traditional values, especially the rural population of Azerbaijan remains faithful to Muslim ideas about the place of women in the family, society and the state.  

An objective assessment is given by foreign observers.  Historically, Azerbaijani women had slightly more rights in the family and in society than in all the Islamic states around. This became possible due to the too strong influence of other cultures and religions, - noted .

Susan Rothman has been living in Baku since 2013, teaching English.  She shared her impressions with EurasiaNet. "On the streets of Baku, in everyday situations outside of work, it's still definitely a man's world.  My impression of the persecution of women is reinforced by the stories I hear from my Azerbaijani female friends and acquaintances. The most humiliating treatment that my Azerbaijani friends and I have encountered at the moment is the way to call a woman to me. Men do this using the same set of sounds that are used to lure cats. In addition, men can behave with extreme frankness, often inviting women they do not know into their car," says Suzanne Rothman, citing examples from her life in Azerbaijan.

Such behavior on the part of men creates an environment that forces women not to leave the house after dusk. Although legally they have the right to do whatever they want, women prefer to stay at home because of the harassment they know they will face when they go outside.

She says that in the opinion of fellow Azerbaijanis, a married man can, from the point of view of society, have extramarital affairs, and for a woman such behavior is taboo. In addition, it is believed that a wife should reconcile with her husband's adultery in the name of preserving the family.

"Most women play...  the role of mother, wife, sister and daughter prescribed by tradition. They are forced to take a secondary position in relation to a man, and many fail to develop their own abilities and talents.  Paradoxically, the First Lady of the Republic Mehriban Aliyeva still managed to secure a prominent role in the highest echelon of Azerbaijani society. But in most areas of business and politics, there are very few women in leadership positions, especially in government," S. Rotman notes.

Azerbaijan ranks second in the world (after China) in the number of sex-selective abortions. Cases of brutal violence against women regularly shock the public, especially when the victims are minors and have been raped repeatedly. The murders of wives and ex-wives by jealous husbands, the murder of mothers and sisters by sons and brothers who found out about the "inappropriate behavior" of family members are common crimes in the criminal chronicle of Azerbaijan. Every year, several shocking cases of forced early marriage or collusion about a future marriage become known, in which parents break the law by deciding the future of young people without their participation.  Public organizations, among the most active Associations of children (Chairman Kamil Aghazade), having learned about this case from relatives and neighbors of young people, inform the police, and illegal marriages are canceled.  K.Aghazade is active in social networks, promotes the responsibility of parents for the future of their children. By phone, she receives information about violations of the law and insults addressed to her.

After numerous public appeals and a petition from the State Committee for Family, Women and Children Affairs, in February 2024, the punishment for domestic violence was tightened.  The application of illegal restrictions of an economic nature on domestic grounds entails the imposition of a fine in the amount of one hundred to three hundred manats.  A fine in the amount of three hundred to five hundred manats is imposed for mental violence on a domestic basis. For repeated commission of the above actions, the punishment increases to 700 manats, up to administrative arrest. The Law defines the procedure for providing free legal assistance to victims of domestic violence.

The head of the Human Rights Center, Eldar Zeynalov, points to gender stereotypes prevailing in society and harmful practices of the police and courts to lubricate, rather than resolve, intra-family conflicts. "It has become a fashionable trend in judicial practice to choose alternative punishments that do not require imprisonment, as well as the conclusion of amicable agreements. In general, this is a positive trend that has relieved prisons. But in some cases, this does not work and gives the domestic abuser a sense of permissiveness. I know a case when a wife brought a case to court and got a suspended sentence for her husband, and this very effectively disciplined a domestic tyrant who was spreading his hands. It could have worked in this case," the human rights activist says.

The feminist movement is active and growing in Azerbaijan. Women no longer want to put up with violence and patriarchal stereotypes, and often find support in each other and among men. Women and men hold street protests, often suppressed by the police. Feminism in Azerbaijan is not a monolithic movement, but separate groups that have an idea of each other's activities. They organize actions together, cooperate, but they can act according to their ideas about the methods of fighting for women's rights.

The solution lies in the real involvement of women in government

The Council of Europe's anti-trafficking body urges Azerbaijan to improve the process of identifying victims of trafficking and expand their access to compensation and other legal remedies. At the same time, the Authority, in its report on Azerbaijan dated 2023, reports on positive dynamics in the development of the legislative, institutional and political framework for combating human trafficking, in raising awareness and training relevant specialists. The number of convictions for human trafficking has increased. Nevertheless, the Council of Europe points to the need for more active actions to improve the access of victims of human trafficking to legal aid, to the labor market and their socio-economic integration. It is also recommended to improve access to legal remedies.

The Body's document says: "Azerbaijan is primarily a country of origin for victims of human trafficking, but also to some extent a country of destination"

The Chairman of the Society for the Protection of Women's Rights, Novella Jafaroglu, recognizes the efforts of the state in solving the gender problem, but points to unresolved issues. She advocates the introduction of minimum quotas for women's participation in government.

"The problem is that there are very few women in parliament, as well as in senior positions in municipalities. But I would like to note that the best municipalities are those where the head is a woman. Why shouldn't Azerbaijan take an example from the Scandinavian countries – Norway, Finland, where there is a quota for women? Not to work according to the methods of international standards? I am not saying 50x50, let it be at least 40x50.  It is simply outrageous that we are talking about women's rights, about gender equality, and there are only three or four women sitting in parliament." 

N.Jafaroglu proposes to create a Women's party in Azerbaijan, but she herself, citing her advanced age, cannot organize a women's political party.

"An Azerbaijani woman should be economically free, be able to earn money on her own, and there are many opportunities in the regions for women who want to create their own household to ensure personal financial independence. I assure you, if a woman is strong, she can literally overcome anything. It is necessary to change the stereotype that a woman's place is in the kitchen, and that a man is a more superior being by birthright. It is time to change all this, with the help of men, we need to work with them, constantly talk about the role of women in society, we need to hold seminars. It is necessary to toughen the punishment for those who beat their wives," said human rights activist Novella Jafaroglu.

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