Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Azerbaijan: All Work And No Play

Azeri women say they work twice as hard as men for little reward.
By Shahla Abusattar
Sabukha Huseinova’s daily routine will be a familiar one to many Azeri women.



She gets up each morning long before the rest of the family, makes breakfast then sees her husband off to work and her children to school. Then it is time to head to her own job as a teacher in a secondary school, followed later in the day by a second job as a private tutor, essential if the family is to make ends meet.



After an 11-hour working day, her responsibilities are far from over when she finally gets home. There she does housework until late in the evening – watched by her husband who is free to sit back and relax after a long day.



Huseinova’s last holiday was in 1992 before she got married, and no others are in the offing. She, like so many other Azeri women, simply doesn’t have time.



“That was the last normal holiday in my life,” she said. “Before we got married, my sister and I also did all the work around the house. It is not customary here for the brother or father to help with the housework. We often help our husband, brother or father if this is necessary. But it is not acceptable to help us.”



In Azerbaijan, women like Huseinova are second-class citizens and even if they are employed outside the home are still solely responsible for preparing meals, helping with schoolwork, washing the clothes and tidying the house.



Daily life is similar, perhaps even worse, for Adelya Magerramova.



She’s a Talysh, an ethnic minority group from the south of Azerbaijan, who married the relative of one of her father’s friends. She now looks after both her husband and his parents. “I don’t have the right to go to bed until they do, and before they do I have to wash their feet,” said Magerramova.



“Even if I am ill and have a high temperature, I have to do the housework myself. No one will do [it] instead of me. Even when I was pregnant, no one in the family took my place in doing the housework.”



When asked why he doesn’t help his hard-pressed wife, Huseinova’s husband Elham said as he does heavy labour he isn’t obliged to contribute to household duties. “The man is the head of the family. Isn’t this enough?” he said.



The head of the women’s group Chisty Mir [Pure World], Mehriban Zeinalova, says Elhom’s attitude is common among men in Azerbaijan. Most, she said, won’t even free up their wives for some well-needed rest by taking care of their children for a day.



“Azerbaijani men think that housework is leisure, and so they don’t need to help out, and it’s not men’s work anyway,” she said.



“Women in Azerbaijan work … 16 hours a day, if not more. And Azerbaijan men are not capable of understanding the seriousness of their problem.”



Adding insult to injury, Zeinalova said, is that men with nothing else to do won’t pitch in, “Often, women have to work at several jobs to feed the family if the husband is unemployed. The problem is that even in this case men do not help women around the house.”



Even an employee of Baku’s Women’s Crisis Centre, where women in trouble come for help, admits he doesn’t do his share at home. Azada Isazade, a psychologist, says although he realises that lack of leisure time causes illnesses including depression among women, he still doesn’t do any housework



“I admit that this is not fair. I am not a helper around the house,” he said, though added he spends longer at work than his wife.



Huseinova, now almost 40, says on the odd occasion her husband helps out, it still means work for her, “Only when shashlyks [kebabs] need to be cooked, he does that. But I have to bring the dishes, water and everything else.”



In the unlikely event the women are able to snatch a few moments for themselves, their leisure opportunities are limited. In the countryside, supplies of gas and electricity are sporadic at best, meaning that when they are available, women take the opportunity to cook rather than relax in front of the television.



Finances are also a problem. “Even if I have free time, because of our small family budget I can’t afford to go to a concert once a month where the tickets take 80 per cent of my salary,” said 45-year-old Sevil. “Not to mention I don’t have the right clothes for these occasions.”



Some like Adela accept their lot in life, saying simply “these are out customs”, while others including Huseinova know they deserve better. However she has no idea what to do or who can help, “Who will listen to me?”



Shahla Abusattar is a correspondent for the Information Resource Centre of the Oil Industry of Azerbaijan in Baku.