This second original article was inspired by the way the Azerbaijani opposition portrays Vice-President, Mehriban Aliyeva. Between those who make fun of her physical traits, and others who emphasize her feminine fashion hobbies, it feels like no one wants to focus on the important. Whether you agree with her position or not (the latter in our case), the fact is that she earned her place and her actions have been strategic, targeted, and successful in getting more power to the Pashayevs.
This situation led Kertenkele to believe that there might be something more behind this. Is it the fact that Mehriban khanum was simply appointed by her husband that annoys the people, or is it the fact that she is a woman? Why does the opposition feel so much interested in her femininity, instead of pointing out the elitism that got her into her position of power? Azadliq Info just named her most ambitious person of the year, yet half of the article is linked to her Instagram photos, cosmetics, and fashion. It seems that her gender is more discrediting than her actual political decisions, or the way she arrived to power.
Women in position of power
Just a few years ago, feminist activists had made the news by sending a blow-up doll to Namik Hasanov, transport ministry spokesman, who pompously stated that women should stay in the grave or in the kitchen, be it today or in the 22nd century. As of 2019, Azerbaijan ranks 95th out of 135 countries in terms of global gender gap (WEF, 2019). While women do participate economically to an acceptable extent, women’s political participation overall is limited. Since 1994, the country still hasn’t seen a single female minister, and the appointment of Miss Aliyeva to the position of vice-president does not count in. Indeed, her portrayal by the media discredits more women-politicians in the future.
This is not only due to the lack of opportunities directed to women in the political area but also to the ingrained prejudices that our people have against women. The “authentic” Azerbaijani woman is supposed to stay at home and care for her family. A view often shared by both men and women. In a 2018 United Nations Population Fund survey of 1000 men and women in Azerbaijan, 58% of men and 48% of women stated that politics should stay a man’s job, while 91% of men and 75% of women said that men should have the final word in all household decisions due to women’s inability to control their emotions.
There were however certain discrepancies on other levels: 60% of men versus only 37% of women thought women should not work outside of the house; 55% of men thought women were too emotional to make sound decisions versus only 22% of women agreeing with this statement; only 18% of men and 37% of women thought their daughters should have a say in their own marriage. All of these leading to further limit a woman’s life and choices.
Certain critics might rush to say that this is what our traditions are, or that the religion dictates it. Yet, throughout the Muslim world, women are being more and more empowered and filling in important roles, making important decisions for their nations. Among them Benazir Bhutto, twice democratically elected Prime-Minister of Pakistan, Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina, ex- and current Prime Ministers of Bangladesh, or Tansu Çiller, ex-Prime Minister of Turkey. This is why we urge the opposition to analyse Mehriban khanum’s political decisions instead of discrediting her based on her gender and the traditional ideas that come with it.
One such example outside of the Muslim world is Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. She was not criticized for her gender, instead of her lack of clear program that would benefit the American population. The main criticizing point being her personal interest in gaining power and becoming president.
The issue of gender preference and domestic violence in Azerbaijan
We will also use this article as an excuse to pinpoint two other gender issues in our country. The first is a direct result of discrimination and technology: prenatal gender detection. With the possibility of checking the sex of the to-be-born baby early on in pregnancies and the preference for sons, a new issue has risen up around the world, that of “missing women”. This issue is most prevalent in India or China, where in certain regions there are 5 men for each woman due to high numbers of sex selection, abortion of baby girls, and/or murder of already-born girls.
Azerbaijan has followed this trend. In 2010, the female population was lower than predictions by almost 10%, meaning more than 8000 sex-selective abortions had taken place in that year alone (Michael, and others, 2013). A trend on the rise that led to a sex ratio of 100 girls to 114 boys in 2017, and even worse in 2018, making Azerbaijan one of the countries with the highest sex ratios in the world.
The government stresses the need to reduce the number of abortions, yet this will have its own disadvantages: more unwanted children, higher teenage pregnancies, and more people searching for unsafe abortion options. This issue has been triggered by the prejudices that come with having a female child, and the social dynamics that led to such opinions have to first be studied and resolved.
In the background of this is the overall issue of women’s treatment by society. Honor killings and domestic violence aren’t uncommon in Azerbaijan. According to a 2018 Advocates for Human rights study, 43% of Azerbaijani women have experienced domestic violence. Just a few months ago, Nadir Qafarzade, a pop-singer, defended honor killings, another gender-based “correction” that only applies to women (OSCE, 2013).
These are the statistics when we don’t count in the fact that many cases are dismissed or never even reported due to fear humiliation, threats or overall shame that is put on anyone who dares to speak about such normalised violence. As of 2012, these were the main types of domestic violence experienced by men and women in our country:
A woman is either a caring, obedient wife, mother, sister, daughter, or she is the unfaithful, promiscuous, indecent less-than-human being who deserves to die. The scale of gender issues in Azerbaijan is not to be underestimated. We are already in the year 2020, and maybe it is time to change our mentalities. Yet, the current information policy of the largest media outlets, as well as government and opposition forces, against women and potential women politicians, only consolidates the status quo.
Advocates for Human Rights. (2018). AZERBAIJAN: Domestic Violence Stakeholder Report for the United Nations Universal Periodic Review.
Michael, M., King, L., Guo, L., McKee, M., Richardson, E., Stuckler, D. (2013). The Mystery of Missing Female Children in the Caucasus: An Analysis of Sex Ratios by Birth Order. International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, Vol. 39, No. 2, pp. 97-102.
OSCE. (2013). Azərbaycan Məhkəmə Sistemində Məişət Zorakılığı ilə bağlı İşlər. Available at: https://www.osce.org/baku/110044
WEF, World Economic Forum. (2019). Global Gender Gap Report 2020. Available at: http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GGGR_2020.pdf