|Gender based violence in Azerbaijan|
Violence in the variety of its forms remains a crucial global problem which penetrates all levels of societies worldwide. In many countries women are the most frequent victims of violence and Azerbaijan is no exception. Violence against women is a complex phenomenon deeply rooted in the way society is composed — cultural beliefs, economic power imbalances and prevailing stereotypes of distinct male and female roles create an atmosphere where violence against women remains at the margins of public attention. Apart from the immediate short term consequences of all forms of violence which are primarily physical injury and/or mental health disorders, long-term consequences of violence against women, including sexual violence, include chronic physical disability, reproductive health problems, sexually transmitted infections, and self-harming ideation and activity.
Domestic violence is one of the most common types of violence against women in Azerbaijan, as in the rest of the world. Any family member can become a victim of domestic violence, but particularly women are more frequently subject to various kinds of violence. Domestic violence against women is a taboo subject in Azerbaijan’s patriarchal society and women often do not have access to any support against violence, particularly in rural areas. It is understood to be widespread, although rarely reported in Azerbaijan, where it is still seen as a “private matter”, widely accepted by both men and women, and where family unity is traditionally so strong that the issue is rarely taken up publicly. No one talks about it. In practice this means that if a woman is subject to violence, she would most likely prefer staying home and dealing with the problem on her own, refraining from even telling her own family. As men traditionally are the head of the household in Azerbaijan putting him under pressure and in the spotlight of criticism jeopardizes the position of the woman herself as well as her children.
Domestic violence negatively influences the further psychological and physical development of children in the family. Once the secret is out, it can potentially unleash number of other problems, one of which is further beating and humiliation, “to teach that woman a lesson”. In other instances, if a woman does decide to report the case, she may be further harassed by the local police. The response given to her is usually the same- "you must have done something wrong otherwise why would he beat you”? So, with further sense of shame and humiliation, the woman returns home, only to endure further pain at best, or beating at worst. And even if her case does reach the court, she has no place to go - unless her own family takes her back. There are no shelters for women suffering from domestic violence in Azerbaijan. She also has to face divorce (a practice although widely spread across the country still considered to be an end to a woman's life, as she cannot re-marry) and the judgmental looks of neighbors and the community.
Early marriages are an example of every day violence, as Gunay Huseyn, a member of the Society to Protect Women´s Rights has stated. These marriages violate many of the young women´s rights - such as the right to education, to dignity, and to proper health services. Sociologically, a girl who marries before eighteen looses her chances to obtain a higher level of education. Her access to social and vocational successes is jeopardized and in a wider sense the role and contributions of women in the society’s progress are diminished.
Rape is considered a crime in Azerbaijan and carries a maximum 15-year prison sentence. The prevailing attitude toward rape is problematic however; both due to gender norms and the high degree of corruption within the police that makes prosecution unlikely. Women lack confidence in the ability of law-enforcement authorities to prevent violence against them. Within the family, the husband considers the wife “soiled” by rape and often threatens to divorce her. Unmarried women are considered dishonored by rape, which is often considered worse than being “soiled”. In Azerbaijan the victims of rape, in the overwhelming majority of the cases, prefer not to publicize it. On the national level, the negative attitude of the society regarding victims of rape forces them to conceal the fact that they have been raped - not only from authorities, but in a number of cases also from the members of their own families.
There are no laws on spousal abuse or specific laws on spousal rape in Azerbaijan. Especially in rural areas women have no effective recourse against assaults by their husbands or others. Social attitudes towards rape within marriage indicate that many people do not consider it a crime. It is rather considered as the “internal affairs” of each family. Azerbaijani culture does not encourage complaints about marital rape; such complaints are often considered to shame the family. There are no government-sponsored programs for victims of rape or domestic violence. The fact that there is no program of protection and rehabilitation for rape victims and that there are no specialized departments that deal with sex crimes, as well as no program of training available for police officers in handling rape cases in a sensitive manner, does not improve the situation of women and fight impunity of perpetrators. Alarmingly, women may possibly even face further violence when they seek assistance from the police. Victims thus often choose not to reveal the real cause.
Likewise, forced prostitution is another form of violence against women. Most of the women identified working in prostitution have been violently abused by their families. Those victims usually refer to prostitution as a mean to escape the violence and abuse they face at their homes. Women who try to escape from violence at home thus face another threat, such as prostitution. Because of their lack of information and desperate situation, they might get into prostitution by trusting people who promise them shelter and employment. And when they try to escape, they may be held back by threats – for example that their families will be informed about their involvement in prostitution and that pictures of them will be released
Trafficking is a relatively new problem in Azerbaijan. Although it is difficult to obtain accurate statistics, what evidence is available suggests that it is increasing although it would appear that Azerbaijan is currently favored more as a transit country by traffickers. Trafficked women and girls also suffer high levels of physical insecurity, physical and emotional violence, and rape.
The gap between the technical legal situation and the actual situation of women in Azerbaijan is dramatic – few women are aware of their legally enforceable rights and cases of violence against women are rarely reported to the police. During the last years the Republic of Azerbaijan has profiled itself as a democratic country, which respects and enforces human rights. The Constitution of Azerbaijan provides equal rights for men and women. In spite of these commitments, it remains a very traditional post-soviet society where gender stereotypes prevail and social conventions regulate the behavior of men and women. In reality decision-making is organized along patriarchal norms. Women are often deprived of the rights to independent decision-making, to equal participation within the family, and to proper education and employment opportunities, as compared to her male partner. As long as women are not able to participate equally in decision-making processes in private and public spheres society will miss the invaluable cultural, social, political and economical contributions women make.
Gender-based violence in Azerbaijan has reached epidemic proportions. It is important that women are aware of the potential risks, and thus better equipped to avoid them. It is also important that they know their rights, and which institutions they can turn to for help. Although the Constitution of Azerbaijan, national legislation and the international treaties guarantee protection of women from violence, these documents are not always applied in practice. New laws, policies and public attitudes need to be developed if this is going to change.
There are some NGOs which are working on the cases of violence against women by promoting and conducting campaigns on gender based violence awareness; unfortunately, these services are functioning mostly in Baku and are not available in the regions. The creation of crisis centers is a decisive step for building a coordinated community response. A shift in attitudes will be necessary to make a significant change so that victims can be afforded protections. Today, women are uncertain where to go for assistance and the lack of financial opportunities, community repercussions and blame, fear of losing children and lack of external support deters them from leaving violent relationships.
A number of activities are currently being implemented to promote the Execution of the “Law on the Prevention of Domestic Violence”. Ali Bilge Cankorel, head of OSCE Baku Office, mentioned in one of the interviews that a hotline service will be set up in Azerbaijan for domestic violence victims. It hasn’t been implemented yet.
In particular, few women or men understand domestic violence, including psychological violence and marital rape, to be a criminal offence why there is an urgent need to increase public awareness of the issue. Prevention of domestic violence should be promoted and awareness of the issue among the general public should be improved. Above all we need a change in attitudes among both men and women, to ensure an understanding of violence against women as unacceptable. Gender-based violence is not a private problem; it is national and global problem that has implication on all levels of society.Sources:
Assessment on Violence and Women in Azerbaijan An overview of violence in the lives of women in IRC’s beneficiary population.International Rescue Committee Azerbaijan Program
Violence aganst women i Azerbaijan. Alternative Country Report to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rightswww.gender-az.org
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