BAKU, SEPT 9 – Even though women all around the world have faced certain challenges since the very beginning but during the last century, women have experienced some life-changing events which led to the women enjoying the liberty and freedom provided and protected by the constitution.
Azerbaijan, a strategically important state, located between Russia and Iran has been a sign of empowered women since 1918. The short-term progressive government of 1918-1920 ensured the equal rights and progress of women of Azerbaijan and their participation as full members of the society. Azerbaijan’s commitment to proportional representation of the minorities and marginalized groups of the society in addition to the introduction of universal suffrage led to Azerbaijan becoming the first Muslim country to work for the protection of the political rights of the women.
Even though Azerbaijan’s journey of women empowerment began long before the introduction of Universal Suffrage in the country but it was finally codified in the year 1919 making it the first secular democracy among the Muslim states of the world.
Over the period, Azerbaijan has made considerable progress in empowering and liberating its women. Azerbaijan has been one of the first few Muslim-majority countries to ratify International Conventions on Women Rights and Gender Equality and adopted various laws dealing with the eradication of Gender Inequality and violence of any sort against women.
Despite the completion of 100 years of women’s freedom in Azerbaijan in 2019, the process of women’s uplifting continues. Azerbaijan still actively works for the uplifting of its women and the marginalized communities. In an attempt to formulate and implement gender-responsive reforms in the country, promote the participation of women in Azerbaijan’s political domain, and enhance their ability to lead the country, a Women Participation Program (WPP) was launched in September 2011 which was active till November 2019.
The Women Participation Program (WPP) facilitated Azerbaijan in understanding the expanding role of women in society. The lessons learned through the WPP continue to apply to Azerbaijan’s society and in highlighting the role of women in various sectors of society. The active role played by the Government of Azerbaijan and their keen interest in WPP has helped in achieving the fundamental objectives of WPP for the overall progress of the women in the country. The WPP seeks to enhance the status of women in Azerbaijan by raising awareness of women- related issues and by encouraging more women to be part of the country’s decision-making process.
The Azerbaijan government, through the WPP, offered new technological opportunities to the women of Azerbaijan to further facilitate them in establishing long-term businesses and to initiate networking especially to women from remote areas. Through the platform of WPP, training was also offered to women to equip them with the required skills such as digital safety, digital marketing, etc. Through this program, the government aimed at:
• Capacity building of the civil society of Azerbaijan to enable them to engage in effective dialogues with the government on issues that affect women.
• Improving women’s participation in the political domain of Azerbaijan and helping them become impactful in decision-making.
• Providing policy recommendations to the Azerbaijan government for effective and efficient implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Hence, improving the overall situation of the women in Azerbaijan.
The Azerbaijan government has also initiated a few other projects for the empowerment of women. One of the significant projects is “Enabling civil society to play a greater role in advancing gender equality and women rights”. The project aims to support civil society’s role in promoting women’s rights and to increase women’s participation in civic activism. Additionally, the human rights-based approach was emphasized in this project. A large number of Azerbaijani women and girls were assisted in expanding their horizons with training. The project facilitated women, not only from urban cities but also from remote areas, in becoming financially independent and successfully leading businesses of their own.
Through this project, Azerbaijan paved the way to financial independence for women across the country especially capital Baku and suburban Sabirabad, Neftchala, and Bilasuvar.
Furthermore, In March 2000, the late President Heydar Aliyev signed an executive order on a new ‘State Policy on Women,’ advising the administration to ensure proportional representation of women in government based on the principles of equality.
Moreover, at present, Azerbaijan has a female cabinet member and 16 percent of its 125-member National Assembly are women. According to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) report on Azerbaijan, the poverty rate among women decreased from 49 percent in earlier years to 5.9 percent in 2014, a statistic that can be attributed to the overall economic development of the country.
Not in the political or social domain, but the women of Azerbaijan have also been assisted in the education sector by the government of Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan society values education, with 90 percent of women graduating from secondary school. Since enforcing the 2000 law on the state policy on women, women by 2015 made up 18 percent of Azerbaijan entrepreneurs.
Through the significant role played by the Azerbaijan government in promoting women’s rights and their role in the public domain, the women of Azerbaijan have been able to reach new heights and have been successfully able to contribute back to the country’s development. TalentPort is described as an Azerbaijani corporate social responsibility company that aims at providing students and disabled people with temporary jobs to help them build their skills and provide a reliable, cost-effective source of labor. The company is a good example of the significant contributions women leaders are making in today’s society of Azerbaijan.
An excellent example of Azerbaijan’s contribution to women uplifting is the appointment of Ms. Mehriban Aliyeva as the First Vice-President of Azerbaijan. Ms. Mehriban’s appointment is a clear manifestation of how women are being honored in the country and how the extensive efforts of the government have resulted in an increase in women’s participation in the public domain of the country. Ms. Aliyeva’s tenure shows the prominent contribution of women in the progress of Azerbaijan not only at the national level but at the international level. The non-profit Heydar Aliyev Foundation led by Ms. Aliyeva has contributed to the enhancement of the cultural and economic development of Azerbaijan.
The continuous struggle of the Azerbaijan government for the improvement of the status of women in Azerbaijan has resulted in significant changes in the situation of the women in the country. The women of Azerbaijan, through the extensive efforts of the government, have been able to reach the new heights of success. With its focus on social development and modernization, the government of Azerbaijan has facilitated the empowerment of Azerbaijani women, thereby, opening multiple ventures of development and progress making Azerbaijan and exemplary state for the rest of world.
Palwasha Nawaz, Research Assistant, Center for Global & Strategic Studies (CGSS), Islamabad