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Women Rights in Azerbaijan, Caucasus, and Central Asia Region

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Kholidah Tamami
Kholidah Tamami
P.hd (Cand), Researcher at Baku State University

On March 31, 1993 during the occupation of the Kelbajar region, a family was shot by Armenians. According to the State Commission on prisoners of war, hostages and missing persons, among them are women and children. Hundreds of women and children have been kidnapped, killed, and tortured as a result of Armenia’s hostile territorial claims to the Republic of Azerbaijan. As a result of the violence, 321 women, 54 children, and 783 detainees had information about whom the Armenians refused, out of 4,844 inmates, misses, and hostages (as of 01.03.2005). (The State Commission reported their abduction and also has details about their whereabouts.) 46 of the hostages were women, and 18 were children. 338 women and 169 children are among those who have been freed so far. Hundreds of women and children were savagely killed or made lifelong moral and physical invalids during their imprisonment, according to other investigations.

The Armenians abducted Mammedova Mahbuda Hamdiizi and her son Ilgar, one of many relatives’ victims. The innocent boy had a broken nose and a cigarette burning in his mouth. Hundreds of other women were abused by Armenian soldiers and subjected to barbaric torture. Mammedova’s and others’ bodies were pierced, their breasts were sliced, their teeth were extracted, their genitals were shot, their teeth were pulled out with pliers, forks, wrenches, and other weapons, their chests were crushed, and their bodies were burned when they returned to Azerbaijan. Hundreds of other women were tortured, including Mammedova, Dadashova, Humbetova, Nuraliyeva, Beybutova, Hasanova, Abishova, Amirova, Orujova, Khayala, Rahimova, Behbutova, Surayya, Jafarova, Rafiga, and others. They are real warriors who are absolutely selfless. They are assets for women’s rights.

Flash back to 1918 the founder of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic Mammad Amin Rasulzadeh considered the liberation of a Muslim woman as one of the most important issues in the national liberation struggle of the Muslims in the world. “Muslim women should not be imprisoned at a time when women of all other nations are participating in the socio-political movement on an equal footing with men, thereby contributing to the success of their nation.” These views were confirmed by the establishment of the principle of equality, the right to vote and to be elected in paragraph IV of the Declaration of Independence adopted by the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic on May 28, 1918. As a result, Azerbaijan became the first country in the East to give women the right to vote and be elected. Thus, not only in the East, but also before a number of European countries, including the United States, which are considered the cradle of democracy, women were given the right to participate in political processes in public life in Azerbaijan.

From that historic day until now, no one can deny the great contribution of Azerbaijani women to all areas of the country. Leyla Mammadbayova, the first pilot in the East, Shafiga Akhundova, the composer who wrote the first opera in the East, the first female oil engineer of Azerbaijan and the first chemist, academician Izzet Orujova also acted as the first female actress in the film “Sevil”. The statue of the Free Woman in the center of Baku throwing her headscarf on a high pedestal was also inspired by Jafar Jabbarli’s play “Sevil”. The Statue of the Free Woman reflects the struggle of women fighting for their rights and freedoms in Azerbaijan at that time. This statue of a young Azerbaijani woman taking off her headscarf was presented as a symbol of women’s social equality in Azerbaijan and the East.

The role of women in the socio-political and social life of modern Azerbaijan is growing every year. This table shows that the least number of women in the Parliament of the country was in 1990 (4.3%). Despite during the next years their number was kept practically unchangeable (11%) after Parliamentary elections in 2010, it made 16% of the total number of parliamentarians, after Parliamentary elections in 2015 it made 16.8%, after last Parliamentary elections in 2020 it made 18.2%.

In Azerbaijan, women have always fought for their freedom, believed in the potential of free women and proved themselves by their actions. In this country where majority of population are muslims discrimination between men and women is more prevalent  than in any other. For example, household chores and childcare are automatically assigned to women, they are not valued enough, they are deprived of the time they can devote to themselves, educational opportunities, leisure and the opportunity to play an important role in society. The main decision-making positions are held by men in Azerbaijan, as well as all over the world. Strong stereotypes about women and men result in gender inequality and violations of women’s rights.

The existing gender problems in Azerbaijan are largely due to the mentality and traditions. Preference is given to boys who are always been a pride of the family. The birth of a girl is considered a source of shame for a man. This problem is more common in remote areas. Selective abortion in order to get rid of a girl in time, is very common due to the stereotype that it can potentially tarnish the family in the future. For the same reason, marrying a girl who has already been born as soon as possible creates the problem of forced early marriages. This leads to many other problems. Usually in such families, women’s access to education is limited or completely banned, leading to psychological, physical and sexual violence and crime. All these problems deprive women of their contribution to society, deprive them of their fundamental rights to express themselves as human beings.

Women who have been subjected to domestic violence in Azerbaijan often do not turn to the police. The power of the mentality discourages women from going to the police, and even if they do, these complaints are often ignored. The State Statistics Committee publishes statistics on domestic violence against women every year. According to statistics, 5,760 crimes against women were registered in 2019, including 2,269 cases of violence, 18% of which were domestic disputes.

The increase in the number of victims of domestic violence during the pandemic year has resonated in Azerbaijani society due to the growing number of suicides among teenagers and young women, as well as reports of early marriages. In order to completely prevent the problem of domestic violence, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev signed a decree on the “National Action Plan to Combat Domestic Violence in the Republic of Azerbaijan for 2020-2023.”

The purpose of the National Action Plan is to bring domestic violence prevention measures in line with international standards, provide families with timely and comprehensive assistance to strengthen them, implement measures to combat domestic violence and increase efficiency. The project envisages holding the “Combating Gender-Based Violence” campaign every year from November 25 to December 10. In order to increase employment opportunities for victims of domestic violence, it is planned to organize vocational training courses for the professions required for them in the labor market and to involve them in other active employment measures.

The number of women studying in higher education institutions in Azerbaijan was 49,858 in 2000/2001, but in 2019-2010, this number doubled to 91,501. Although these indicators are very good, they are not enough, and there is a need for development in other areas to fully ensure women’s rights through gender equality. Statistics show that educated women are many times less likely to be abused than uneducated women. One of the main indicators of the lack of gender equality is that women are paid less than men for the same position in the same country or institution. Women all over the world are struggling with this situation. According to statistics published by The State Statistical Committee of the Republic of Azerbaijan in 2019, the average monthly nominal salary of women were 443.4 AZN and 764.8 AZN for men.

Gender expert Gulnara Mehdiyeva and other Azerbaijani feminist women which have set themselves the mission of restoring women’s rights, are increasingly campaigning against domestic homicides or suicides. A protest organized to be held on International Women’s Day which began on Fountain Square and were planned to end near the Free Women’s statue dispersed by police and several members detained at the rally. This time, the issues that feminist activists are trying to draw attention to were different than in previous years. The statement said that despite the increase in domestic violence due to the pandemic, no legal, psychological or financial assistance was provided to helpless women, resulting in an increase in violence victims, as well as a lack of psychological assistance to war-affected women.

Women in Caucasia and Central Asia Region

The presence of women in parliaments across the Caucasus and Central Asia has risen in the last 25 years, albeit slowly: in most countries in the region, between 15 and 25 percent of their MPs are women. This information have been reported by United Nations Development Programme, Equal Future. UNDP report shows that many countries in the region have seen big jumps since the early post-independence parliaments in the 1990s, Armenia’s parliament was only 6 percent women in 1995.

Tajikistan’s was 3 percent women in 1995 (compared to 19 percent today), and Kyrgyzstan’s was 2 percent in 2000 (also 19 percent today). Armenia (Republic of Armenia) has a Unicameral parliament with legislated quotas for the single/lower house. 31 of 132 (23%) seats in the Azgayin Zhoghov / National Assembly are held by women. In Georgia, the most democratic country in the region, ranks close to the bottom with only 15 percent of MPs being women.

In 2020, the female representation in the Federal Assembly of Russia was recorded at 16.5 percent from the total number of available seats. In the State Duma, 16.3 percent of seats were occupied by women. Between 2014 and 2020, the share of women in national parliaments grew increasingly in Russia. In Uzbekistan the number of women represented in parliament has doubled. Where only 24 women got into parliament in the 2014 elections, that number has now risen to 48 – still less than one-third of the total. There are 28 women in Kazakhstan’s 154-seat Parliament, and women represent 25.2 percent of the lower house of parliament.

As of March 2017, the share of women in the lower house of parliament was 27%, which is 10% higher than ten years before. Turkmenistan has progressed towards gender equality and women’s empowerment over the last decade in terms of their representation at the decision-making level. The representation of women in politics is higher than average in the Central Asian region. The Parliament is led by a woman chairperson, and women account for 24.8 percent of the 125 deputies in the Parliament. In Tajikistan, traditional gender roles are upheld, and female political representation is quite uncommon.

In 2015, only 19% of parliament seats were held by women. Despite this statistic, female political representation in local government is higher at around 40%. Roza Otunbaeva, head  of the opposition Social Democratic Party faction,  was the first female president of Kyrgyzstan, and so far the only woman to lead a former Soviet state. In 2017, women accounts for 19,2% parliamentarians in the Jogorku Keshi. Despite a considerable increase in female political representation, the number of women in office has not yet reached the 30% threshold identified by the Beijing Platform for Action as critical for effective participation in decision making.

References :

https://www.unwomen.org/-/media/headquarters/attachments/sections/library/publications/2020/women-in-politics-map-2020-en.pdf

https://www.stat.gov.az/?lang=en

https://en.president.az/

http://scfwca.gov.az/en/page/meiset-zorakiliginin-qarsisinin-alinmasi

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/313045036_Women_and_gender_relations_in_Tajikistan

https://bit.ly/worldswomen2020

http://supremecourt.gov.az/en/static/view/182

Kholidah Tamami
Kholidah Tamami
P.hd (Cand), Researcher at Baku State University
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