Empowering Women in Rural Azerbaijan
The goal of the Women’s Bar Association of Azerbaijan from its beginning in 2007 was to enhance the professional development of its 270 women lawyer members and to empower the women of Azerbaijan. With $100,000 grant from the One Woman Initiative, women lawyers and educators went into the remote rural villages to hold group discussions with rural women on domestic violence, human trafficking, gender equality and early marriages. For many rural women, it was the first time they had been able to discuss such issues with other women outside their family and learn about their legal rights under Azerbaijani and international law.
Historically and culturally, Azerbaijan has been influenced for centuries by its powerful neighbors, Iran, Turkey and Russia. A common example seen in all of the countries is that men are the dominant power in households. A rural woman explains: “If my husband says yogurt is black, yogurt is black.” Early marriages and domestic violence are major social problems in Azerbaijan and women have few protections. Some women wrote anonymously about their experiences, with accounts of village girls as young as 12 years old being forced to marry. Many also reported personally experiencing or seeing physical violence directed towards a neighbor’s wife, daughter-in-law or children with no protection from authorities.
This year, the Women’s Bar Association traveled twelve times to four geographically remote regions. The rural women begged them to return to educate their daughters, sons and husbands. They also suggested opening information centers, putting up posters warning of trafficking dangers, hiring school psychologists, holding educational seminars, providing shelters for battered women and victims of trafficking, adopting and enforcing laws to protect women and children. (Note: At the time of writing, a draft Law on the Prevention of Domestic Violence was pending before the Parliament of Azerbaijan.)
Many women said that for the first time they did not feel alone and that others were out there who cared about their problems and who were eager and capable of helping. WBA with the grant from OWI will be returning this year to the regions to provide individual legal advice and train rural women to become community leaders.
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