The last reports of the World Economic Forum stated that Azerbaijan had slowed its progress in closing the gender gap, which in turn placed it on the 86th position out of 144 states for progress in terms of gender equality (December 2016).[1] This data proves, yet again, that much more has to be done in order for the civil society to accomplish its goal to drastically reduce gender inequalities in Azerbaijan.

Through the course of this contribution, I will elaborate on some of the suggested solutions to the problem of gender inequality in Azerbaijan, but first, I will highlight some of the structures that underpin and perpetuate these profound gender inequalities.

What creates/perpetuates gender inequality in Azerbaijan?

  • The dominance of patriarchal structures in society,
  • The economic dependence of women,
  • The low level of female empowerment in politics,
  • The existence of unwritten but widely accepted prejudices against women, especially in rural areas,
  • The early marriage of girls,
  • The low level of women’s empowerment in higher education and the consequent lack of role models.

It is primarily the patriarchal system, with its unwritten norms, that prevents the empowerment of women in all sectors of society. As a consequence of this, women are often beaten, sworn at, and generally undervalued across Azerbaijani society.

How can these gender inequalities be addressed?

The everyday dangers faced by Azerbaijani women are some of the many reasons for which these deep societal gender inequalities should be investigated. However, working out a way to address them is an even more complex issue. Given that any form of social movements would most likely be quickly suppressed by the autocratic system of government currently in place in Azerbaijan, in my opinion, using education to target patriarchal structures is the only way to break the stereotypes within Azerbaijani society. However, this is likely to take a very long time.

On a societal level, opinions differ as to how women’s empowerment might be achieved. The Azerbaijani people have expressed a number of ways in which this goal might finally be accomplished.[2] The most comprehensive, and publicly available survey was produced back in 2009 by the Public Union for Gender Equality and Women’s Initiatives, which mentioned that:

29% of the respondents believed that women’s empowerment could be achieved by opening new labour markets to women, while 25% felt that active empowerment of women in the public service would be the most effective method. A further 22% supported the implementation of awareness-raising campaigns on women’s rights, and 15% sought to advance women’s living conditions for reducing women’s physical works. Finally, 8% believed that raising awareness on gender stereotyping would prove to be the most effective way to ensure women’s empowerment.

The empowerment of women within the Azerbaijani society and the methods of achieving it remains a divisive issue. However, the majority of those surveyed were in agreement that women’s status could only improve if women’s access to the economy was increased.

In my opinion, breaking stereotypes and challenging gender roles are among the most important methods to reduce inequalities between men, women and to extend equality to other marginalized groups, such as the LGBTQI community within Azerbaijan. It is my belief that comparisons can be drawn between the violation of women’s rights in Azerbaijan and the human rights abuses faced by the LGBTQI community, and this is why they should be addressed in complementarity with one another.

Steps to Ensure Equality for All Sexual Orientations and Gender Identities in Azerbaijan

  1. Awareness raising on sexual orientations and gender identities in all regions of Azerbaijan and a widespread discussion about what is meant by “gender roles”.
  2. The creation of local committees in rural regions that actively oppose early marriages and sexual abuse of girls.
  3. The unification of gender equality, LGBTQI and women’s initiatives.
  4. The legalisation of same-sex marriages in the country so as to provide equality for those of diverse sexual orientations in Azerbaijani society.
  5. The encouragement of women’s involvement in the political arena.
  6. The formation of economic conditions without any discrimination against women, men or LGBTQI individuals, ensuring “equal work for equal pay”.
  7. State provision of paternal leave and increased support of maternal leave.
  8. The development of man-to-man and peer-to-peer approaches to advance societal attitudes relating to gender roles.
  9. The reduction of gender-based violence all around the country, especially, against young girls and LGBTQI individuals and the improvement of the hotline system in rural and urban regions.
  10. The establishment of legal provisions to give women and LGBTQI individuals equal opportunity for work in public and private sectors.
  11. The revision of the definition of “power” and the elimination of the masculine element perceived as inherent therein.
  12. The elimination of “hate speech” against diverse gender identities and sexual orientations in mass media.

Implementation

To conclude, I would once more like to highlight the importance of the government in bringing about change for women and LGBTQI+ individuals in Azerbaijani society.  Although men are predominantly macho in Azerbaijan, they are also afraid of individuals in high-ranking positions because of the autocratic system of government. Government action for the betterment of the position of women and sexual minorities in Azerbaijan would, therefore, have far-reaching effects. As soon as these recommendations are accepted at a government policy level, gender roles will become nothing more than a remote and bitter taste of the past in Azerbaijani society.

                                                                                                                                                                                  

[1] Data available at http://reports.weforum.org/global-gender-gap-report-2016/economies/#economy=AZE [last accessed 10 October 2017].

[2] The public union of gender equality and women’s initiatives, Alternative report, “Monitoring of implementation of Convention on elimination of all types of discrimination against women in Azerbaijan, 2009, p. 52, used 12;14-15;22;24-27 (This survey has been conducted in 2009, therefore, the most relevant and reliable source is this research material except its expiring time limitation. Data available at http://www.gewi-az.org/Hesabtalar_neshrler/alternative_report_CEDAW_GEWI_AZ.pdf)

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