The Cost of Equality in Azerbaijan

Women paying a heavy price for trying to become more active and assertive in Azerbaijani society.

The Cost of Equality in Azerbaijan

Women paying a heavy price for trying to become more active and assertive in Azerbaijani society.

Covering her face with one hand, Esmer pushed the mirror off the table with the other. “It will never show me young and beautiful again,” she said.

Esmer, now aged 23, has been unable to get pregnant in her eight years of marriage. As a result, she has been reproached and beaten by her husband, Khagani, who also forced her to undergo a series of questionable medical treatments for her “illness”. Hormonal injections and other procedures have caused malformations of her bone structure, something that doctors seem unable to correct. Now crippled and in pain, Esmer has been abandoned by her husband, and sent back to live in her father’s house.

“When we were first married, Khagani developed serious stomach trouble. Many people advised me to divorce him. But I looked after him for so many years and now he is healthier than I am,” she said. “When Khagani insulted and humiliated me because we had no children, I wanted to divorce him myself, but he would not let me go. Then, when I needed help, he threw me out of my own home.”

Natella Mamedova, head of the Ganja Centre for the Rehabilitation of Women, said that 90 per cent of the women who come to them have suffered physical abuse and other forms of maltreatment. “This figure shows that domestic violence is already a widespread phenomenon,” she said. “The more our women try to [assert themselves] in society, the more they are oppressed.”

Gulnara Hasanova, head of the Organisation for Women in Civil Society, agreed, “Our women try to be active in social and political processes, and take a leading position in society. Men with a patriarchal mentality are scared of this sudden development, and are worried that women may not only become their equals, but even become superior to them.”

Physical abuse is the primary cause of divorce, according to a survey conducted by Hasanova’s organisation. “In half of all divorce cases at the Ganja city court, domestic violence was cited as the reason for the split,” she said. “There are other reasons, but not as prevalent. For example, in 20 per cent of cases, men go away to [look for] work for an indefinite period, and in their absence they cannot provide for the family. In 15 per cent of cases, the reason is infidelity, while failure to bear children makes up five per cent.”

Like many women in Azerbaijan, Esmer silently put up with the humiliation and beatings by her husband in the hope of preserving her marriage. For a long time, her parents were unaware of the problems that she was having. The truth did not emerge until she was sent back to her father’s home, rejected and crippled.

When we said goodbye, Esmer had difficulty getting up, and lent on the shoulder of her sister Sevinj for support. She is in need of constant care, which her relatives provide. The young woman is in no doubt why her life is so hard. “I think these things happened to me because I was born a woman,” she said through her tears.

Tahmine Tagieva is a reporter for the Ganjabasar and 525 newspapers in Ganja, Azebaijan.

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