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

New Law to Tackle Domestic Assault in Azerbaijan

Women look for ways out from violence in the home.
By Leyla Leysan

Narmina, 27, got married six years ago and has been beaten by her husband regularly ever since. He refuses to let her work, will not allow her outside the house, and even stops her speaking to her mother.

Activists say Narmina’s story is a depressingly common tale in Azerbaijan where, they say, the majority of women are the victims of violence from their husbands or parents-in-law at some point in their lives.

Parliament plans a new law to deal with the issue, including setting up refuges, but it is too early to say what effect this will have.

“My husband creates a row out of the smallest pretext. Every evening, when he comes home from work, my son Murad and I try to be as quiet as possible, so as not to annoy him,” said Narmina. “He may hit me if he doesn’t like something I’ve said. He beats the child for the smallest bit of disobedience. Our life is a nightmare.”

Narmina – whose name has been changed to protect her from intimidation –said she dreamed of leaving her husband, but had no idea how to go about this.

“I have never worked a single day and I depend on my husband completely for money. And we don’t live on a large amount – just 89 manats [111 US dollars] a month.”

The director of the Women’s Crisis Centre, Matanet Azizova, said many of the women who come to her are so traumatised that they need full counselling. Holding a simple conversation is often beyond them.

“According to monitoring conducted by international organisations in Azerbaijan, around 80 per cent of women in our country have been abused in one way or another. The main problem is that many men do not think that this is in any way wrong. When our workers talked to these men, they met with genuine surprise,” she said.

“They are convinced that the wife must sit at home, bringing up the children. The same thing applies to forcing women to have sex. Husbands are convinced that if a woman becomes his wife, she must be ready for sexual relations at any time, whenever he wants.”

Azad Isazade, a psychologist, said the picture was often very complex. He said women were not entirely helpless, and sometimes men were the victims.

“A man appealed to me once who had been pushed to the edge by his wife. She shouted at him every day, threw domestic objects at him, and picked up on the smallest things. Abuse from wives is often psychological rather than physical. They start rows and accuse their husband of not earning enough, and of not being able to support them as they should,” he said.

But he said most problems were experienced by women. In the last month alone, two pregnant women had turned to him for help.

“Unable to stand the beatings, they had left their husbands,” he said.

At the moment, Azerbaijan’s legal system singles out physical abuse as a crime, but does not deal with more nuanced forms of domestic violence. Experts say the current legislation is insufficient to protect victims.

Rabiyat Aslanova, chairwoman of parliament’s committee for human rights, said a draft law on the prevention of domestic violence was ready to be discussed in the chamber.

“I hope that this bill will resolve many issues,” she said, although she added that the main way to defeat domestic violence was by developing society.

“Society must not be indifferent to these cases. These problems need to be resolved with a complex set of measures,” she said.

There are no accurate official figures on the scale of domestic violence in the country. According to Elgun Safarov, deputy head of the legal department of the State Committee for Family Problems, Women and Children, this is because statistical research into the issue began only in 2006 and the figures do not deal with all forms of domestic violence.

Despite this, he said, the government committee had been working for many years to try to prevent violence.

“The main reason for it is lack of education in the provinces. To educate society, we have given out leaflets and booklets with information on this problem,” he said. The new law will provide for the creation of refuges for the victims of violence, he added.

“We plan to open rehabilitation centres for people who have been the victims of violence, where they will work with the best specialists, psychologists and lawyers,” he said.

Leyla Leysan is an IWPR-trained reporter in Azerbaijan.

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