Azerbaijan: “Half-Hearted” State Policy Blamed for Gender Violence

Officials accuse campaigners of politicising the issue to suit their own agenda.

Azerbaijan: “Half-Hearted” State Policy Blamed for Gender Violence

Officials accuse campaigners of politicising the issue to suit their own agenda.

Activists in Azerbaijan warn that violence against women is rising.
Activists in Azerbaijan warn that violence against women is rising. © Freepic
Thursday, 2 September, 2021

Activists in Azerbaijan warn that violence against women is rising, with the government failing to take action or provide sufficient support for survivors of abuse.

Most recently, the August 3 killing of 23-year-old Sevindj Meherremova by her husband Fuzuli Garayev sparked widespread debate on violence against women.

Meherremova’s cousin Nigar Mirzeyeva said that the young woman had repeatedly reported her husband’s violence to the police but no action was taken.

“Their marriage was agreed through violence and pressure,” she said. “Fuzuli Garayev manipulated an 18-year-old child. Sevinj agreed [to marry] him to save her life from her own alcoholic father. But Fuzuli was also violent with his ex-wife, who we knew and was a distant relative of ours. Sevindj was subjected to such violence even while pregnant.”

She continued, “Once she was severely beaten and when we went to the doctor together, we learned that her third child had died in the womb. In the end, he killed Sevindj. The state, even the police, did not protect Sevindj.”

According to the prosecutor’s office, 33 women were killed in the country in just the first six months of this year. Eight women were killed on July 10 alone. Campaigners argue that a lack of social and psychological support means that women often return to their abusers.

"Sevindj talked to us many times because of the violence she was exposed to,” said feminist activist Gulnare Mehdiyeva. “The scars on her body were horrible. After, we took her to the shelter, we helped her find a job. But soon, her husband manipulated her through their children and took her back home.

“When we learned that despite so many incidents, the state refuge sent her home we were terrified. All the effort was in vain. She had come such a long way to be saved. Sevindj told us that the police officers at the shelter also told her to go home. Instead of arresting her husband, they tried to reconcile them. That is why we say that the killings of women are political. As a result of half-hearted policy, the number of murders of women is increasing.”

Nergiz Mukhtarova, a domestic violence researcher, also said that incidents of femicide had risen in Azerbaijan in recent years.

“Unfortunately, the situation is becoming a trend and there is a significant increase,” she said. “The state authorities are indifferent. Women who approach them are not provided with a protection order for a long period of time, nor are violent sex offenders punished. It never goes beyond a reprimand.”

Mukhtarova said that a national strategy was needed to deal with the situation, along with further measures including adopting the Istanbul convention, the international agreement intended to protect women against violence.

“The Istanbul convention will oblige the state to protect women,” she continued, noting that the guideline was for a country to provide one shelter for every 10,000 people. Azerbaijan has three women's shelters run by the ministry of internal affairs, far fewer than the recommended number.

Zibeyde Zekeriye, a lawyer who has worked on court cases involving the murder or abuse of women, said that the government had no interest in adopting the convention. She argued that it should nonetheless institute its own measures.

“The main problem faced by victims of domestic violence is the lack of any protection mechanism. For example, what should a beaten woman do? She calls [an emergency number] and they come and take a statement. How will she protect herself if she stays in the house? According to procedure, after the police report, the woman is sent for an examination, after which measures are supposed to be taken against the perpetrator - but there is no real working mechanism.”

Zekeriye added that the lack of emotional support for women and their children was a major reason why many of those experiencing abuse ended up going back to their husband, adding, “There are very few shelters and there are no psychologists.”

Ministry of internal affairs spokesman Elshad Hajiyev said that the government was fulfilling its obligations to protect women, and that the whole issue of abuse was being politicised by activists.

“Society is quite stable in our country and Azerbaijan has specific state programmes for these issues,” he continued. “Conflict in the family is resolved within the framework of legislative possibilities and we work together with the municipality and the executive branches.”

Hajiyev said the perception that numbers of murders of women had increased was simply because, with the advent of social media, people heard about such cases more often.

Mehriban Zeynalova, chair of the Clean World Women's Public Union, said that a concerted and co-ordinated effort was needed across government to address the issue.

“We need to investigate why the killings take place and what the psychological state is at the root,” said. “Everyone blames the police but does anyone know the role of the police in the law? The reason for the woman returning to their abuser is a lack of social support. There are almost no integration programmes and psychological treatment is not carried out. The law must be improved.

“In a country of widespread stereotypes,” she continued, “the number of female police officers should also be increased so that women are more comfortable in these matters. We need more staff and resources. There are only 50 employees in the Family Women's Committee, is that enough for a population of nine million?”

This publication was prepared under the "Amplify, Verify, Engage (AVE) Project" implemented with the financial support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway.

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