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

Single Mothers Struggle With Prejudice

Unmarried women who choose to have children face public scorn.
By Nigyar Musaeva
Aitan looks sadly at a woman carrying a child and sighs. At 34, Aitan is still unmarried and over time her hope of starting a family has dwindled.



Many women in Azerbaijan are in the same situation, held back by the prejudice that surrounds single mothers. For the majority of the population, having a child out of wedlock is disgraceful and a sign of amorality.



Zarifa Khalilova, 40, says that when she gave birth to her son several years ago, the district doctor who came to examine the child insulted her.



“She said that I was probably a prostitute if I had given birth without a husband,” said Zarifa



Sex outside marriage has long been condemned in Azerbaijan. Although with time, morals have become a little more relaxed, society continues to take a dim view of illegitimate children.



It is also financially very difficult to bring up a child on one’s own in Azerbaijan. Even couples struggle to provide for their children.



Child benefit in Azerbaijan is just 9,000 manats (2 US dollars) a month - not even enough to buy a box of the cheapest baby food - and is only available for the poorest sections of society.



While unmarried women dream of motherhood, others who have been left with a child to look after complain of how difficult it is.



One such unwilling single mother is Larisa Gajieva, 28. “I started having problems with my husband when I became pregnant. He didn’t want a child and insisted on an abortion. But I did not agree. As a result, he left me in the sixth month of pregnancy and filed for divorce,” she said.



When they divorce, men often conceal their real income to avoid paying alimony. Larisa’s husband was also unwilling to pay, and preferred to forget about his own child altogether. After long and humiliating court proceedings, she was able to secure alimony of 50,000 manats (ten dollars).



However, Larisa says that at that time even this small amount of money meant a lot for her.



“When you have to count every penny, any income is important. Now that I am working and have found my feet, I don’t need this ten dollars anymore,” she said. “But I won’t give it up. In the end, he is the father of this girl, so he can keep paying until she comes of age.”



Former husbands of single mothers usually refuse to talk about this topic, and Larisa’s husband claims the child is not his.



Another father who abandoned his child to the care of its mother is 40-year-old Samir Asadov. He lived in a de facto relationship for a long time with a woman called Vera, and three years ago a son, Aslan, was born to them.



“The problem is that my mother was always against our relationship,” said Samir. “She did not think that Vera was suitable for me. Of course, she did not intend to recognise the grandchild, and some time after his birth, she forced me to marry one of our relatives. I couldn’t disobey my mother.”



Only brave and well-off women can afford to give birth to a child without a husband. Alina Isaeva, 27, is firmly resolved to have a child whatever her circumstances.



“Even if I don’t get married, I will still have a child. And I will probably go to a sperm bank,” she said. “I think this is much more honest than having a child with someone you don’t love. But before doing this I must find my feet and become financially independent, so that my future child does not want for anything.”



Artificial insemination to help couples unable to have children is carried out frequently in Baku. But the head of the gynaecological department of the central clinical hospital says that they are not allowed to offer single women the treatment.



In general, the issue of artificial insemination for single women is bewildering for doctors. They say that it is absolutely uncharacteristic for Azerbaijan.



Indeed, the idea of artificial insemination seems savage and even sordid to most Azeri women, very few of whom would actually consider this method of getting pregnant.



So, for the majority of women who want a child, marriage is still the best option.



Aitan’s parents and relatives are still trying to find her a husband, although every year this becomes more problematic. But Aitan still hopes that she will find the right man, and even if family life does not work out, at least she will have a child - a legitimate one.



Nigyar Musaeva is an independent journalist based in Baku.