Feminism in Azerbaijan
Azerbaijani women were among the most vulnerable social groups in the military conflict. Having remained without jobs and homes, having lost their husbands and sons, Azerbaijani women are keenly aware of the value of peace. According to the survey carried out among women in 1995 in refugee camps, about 70% of the respondents aspire to peaceful work at home or in a job. The results are confirmed by the data of another survey carried out in 1996 (62.6% gave the same response in this case). About 90% of all women wait impatiently to return to the places of their residence and the restoration of their homes.
In 1995, at the 39th Session of the UN Commission on Women's Position, a resolution on the release of all women and children hostages in the world was adopted by the initiative of the Azerbaijani women delegation. Such an act on the threshold of the World Women's Conference could have proved the humanitarian nature of the actions of the world community and consolidated the efforts of peace initiatives. However, implementation of the resolution has been more complicated than expected and it still is on the agenda of the UN Commission on Women's Position. In the meantime, the State Commission examining the problems of hostages and women's non-governmental organisations carried out the work of listing the 362 women and 74 children held hostage due to the conflict over Karabakh. Unfortunately, progress on this question is not expected to achieve results soon. Azerbaijani womenómembers of NGOs and government officialsócontinue to participate in peace-related conferences and seminars in and outside the country. It should also be noted that one of the two permanent representatives of Azerbaijan in such organisations as the UN and the Council of Europe in Geneva is a women.
Poverty and employment
Poverty in its current form is one of the key problems of the country. It sharply increased its extent and became clearly visible in early 1989. The kind of poor people who existed in the socialist society the "old poor" (members of large families, single-parent families, invalids and old people, people with low pensions) has sharply increased. However, the largest increase has been among the "new poor" - youth, people who have not received compensations, the unemployed and the refugees and IDPs. Among all these groups, children and women refugees and IDPs are affected the most. Poverty-stricken children have appeared on the streets begging in all cities of the country. A considerable increase in parental death - losses during the military conflict - leads to an increase in the numbers of families and households with women as the head. The risk of impoverishment for this group is high. The incomplete families with divorced or unmarried women and their children are protected the least. Though a legal allowance is to be provided for the children by the father on separation, a large number of divorced men evade payments by leaving the country.
According to the World Bank's poverty assessment survey, the consumption of meat and meat products, milk and dairy products has fallen by more than 50%. According to a UN DP survey, 45% of refugees have not eaten meat within the last six months. Taking into account the traditional rule within the family that the women eat last, it is likely that their food consumption is the lowest among family members. Their poor diet directly influences their health condition. Among expectant women, for example, 90% suffer from anemia.
Employment is an important indicator of women's status in the country. In Azerbaijan, women are equally entitled to free choice of profession. According to the national Labour Code, they even have some privileges. During the Soviet period, women participated in nearly all spheres of labour activity, including the most difficult ones. At present, 718,000 women work in the state sector of the economy. A certain number of women traditionally work in the oil-industry. They are involved in a wide variety of activities: from scientific research to complicated operations on on- and off-shore oil development. Women in the oil industry are organized as a women's labour union to protect their rights. During the economic transition, women's position in the labour market has sharply changed. Of the people who apply for jobs, 51.7% are women. More than two-thirds of them receive official status as unemployed.
Women and military conflict
The beginning of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict led to the deportation of 200,000 Azerbaijani people in 1988 from Armenia, people who had lived there for centuries. Later, the occupation of nearly 20% of the Azerbaijani territory led to the creation of a large number of IDPs. According to data of the State Committee of Statistics in January 1996, women constituted 54% of the total number of IDPs. Of these women, 48.3% are able to work. The results of the 1996 survey show that 95.6% of the respondents lacked basic necessities such as food, warm clothing and bed sheets. The fact that most women are unemployed increases the hardships of the family. Paradoxical as it may seem, the existence of refugees and IDPs who are deprived of normal conditions of life helps promote social mobilization in the country. They are supported not only by the State and specially established structures, but also by public and non-governmental organizations. The humanitarian aid of international organizations and international private donors is also very crucial.
Since 1991, the number of women's non-governmental organizations (NGOs) has been rapidly increasing. Today there are more than 20 such organizations. Some of them carry out their activities through establishing Women's Councils or Structural Subdivisions. Even though they are established to serve different mandates and have different agendas, these organizations have some actions and purposes in common. There is a trend of consolidation of their efforts in some spheres of activity. For example, the "Mejlis of Women's Organizations" consists of more than ten NGOs. In their actions, women's NGOs follow the conclusions and the recommendations of the Beijing Platform of Action, especially those propositions which apply to actual problems of the country. All national NGOs are engaged in charity activities for the refugees, IDPs, orphans and invalids. In contrast, international NGOs that operate in the country and work with the same target population have considerable financial resources and organizational facilities. Unfortunately, partnerships and cooperation between them and local NGOs have not developed significantly.
The Health sector
Health is universally valued, and women's health assumes ever greater importance in the context of society's appreciation for its future. In Azerbaijan traditional methods of medicinal treatment, using various herbs and other natural means, have long existed. These methods in combination with the traditional norms of nutrition were believed to promote long life, which has not been a rare phenomenon in the Caucasus and particularly in Azerbaijan. However, within the hierarchy of national values, health does not occupy a high place. Radical changes in economic and social spheres in the country and the military conflict have seriously affected the health of citizens.
Average life expectancy was reduced to 68.5 years in 1995, while in 1990 it was 71.1 years. The life expectancy of women is 73.5 yearsóthat is, 10 years more than the life expectancy of men (63.5 years). However, the maternal mortality rate is 37 per 100,000 live births. This rate is significantly higher than it was in the 1980s. The number of women's consultation offices, children's polyclinics and dispensaries has decreased in recent yearsó reaching 943 in 1995. The number of maternity hospitals, however, have increased. According to preliminary data, the numbers of tuberculosis, malaria and diphtheria cases have increased. This can be explained by the worsening state of the environment, by poor prophylaxis and sanitary condition and by the decline in living standards.
Women in the Health Sector in Azerbaijan
Women's position in the health sector is better than in other sectors. Women constitute 72% of the number of people working in this sector. The percentage of women occupying leading posts is also considerably high. Women make up about 35% of the total number of hospital and polyclinic managers in the urban and rural areas of the Republic. Women are 90.3% of middle medical staff. Medical education has the following levels: secondary-special, higher, postgraduate, and doctorate. Women prefer to obtain medical education. The considerable scientific and medical potential of the country allows it to involve local experts for the implementation of international programs and projects. There are number of programmes which are expected to continue until the year 2,000: the programme on Family Planning, on the Struggle against Tuberculosis, on Diabetes, on Non-Infectious Diseases (hypertension, etc.), on Immunization (dyphteria, tuberculosis and others) and the programme on Mental Health. The Program on Reproductive Health and Family Planning, supported by the World Health Organisation and the UN Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), was adopted in March, 1996. Established in 1996, the Center on "Family and Health" is functioning well, with an important program for gathering health statistics.
Health Protection in new conditions
The right of citizens in Azerbaijan to lead healthy lives regardless of sex, which was guaranteed by the Constitution of 1995, cannot be realised fully. During the Soviet period, citizens had access to free medical services. The current transition period has brought fundamental changes in the health sector and the previous system has been eliminated. However, paid medical services and medical insurance are also not available for the population since the majority are too poor to access them. The low value placed on health in ethnic consciousness is also another factor. Still, medical-service expenses of the population have increased (mainly on medicines). According to surveys, sociological data and other sources, the World Bank indicates that the majority of people pay for all kinds of medicines and services and that private finances for medical services in 1995 exceeded state expenses by a factor of four.
The high cost of medical services limit the access of the population to the health care system. About 50% of the population do not use medical advice in cases of sickness or health problems. And 55% of those who paid for medical help borrowed money or sold some of their personal belongings to cover the financial costs. Patients who seek medical advice tend to do so at later stages of their sickness and they are dismissed from the hospital too soon. This situation is worse in the case of child birth. When a woman is not able to pay for hospital care, she gives birth at home under conditions which are not sanitary or safe. Even if a woman goes to the hospital, most of the time she cannot afford to stay there long enough to receive adequate treatment. This increases the chances of developing ill-effects during her postnatal period and the chances of the newborn child having health problems. The health care sector is one of the sectors which has suffered most from the military conflict: 315 medical institutions (hospitals and polyclinics) were destroyed, for example. The ensuing settlement of refugees and IDPs in tent camps and in other settlements not appropriate for human accommodation impedes the efforts to adopt adequate health measures and carry on medical prophylaxis.
Plan of Action
The above analysis necessitates the development of a gender-sensitive state strategy. The priority steps should be as follows:
The Prime-Minister of Norway, Gro Harlem Brutland, indicates that "Investments in women are justified not only from the point of view of women but from the point of view of children and men." It could be added that this investment is one of the most important in terms of social integration and the establishment of the "Society of the Future". It is important to stress that the position of women in society reflects the level of development of that society. Real progress can only be observed when "Social Cohesion" is achieved, of which the empowerment of women is an inseparable component.
Azerbaijan women in the fine arts
Today Azerbaijani Art is represented by 100 professional women-artists. They are sculptors, painters, theater artists and women engaged in applied arts, drawing, ceramics, carpet-making and other kinds of decorative art. The contribution of women artists to the Fine Arts of Azerbaijan is considerable. There are such outstanding artists as M. Rachmanzade, 1. Seidova, E. Shahtahtin-skaya, V. Samedova, G. Mustafaeva, E. Guseinova and H. Safarova. They have participated equally with men in establishing the original national painting school, have actively participated in exhibitions, and have experienced the difficulties of the Soviet period for art and artists. At the same time, their works were distinguished by ingenuousness and freedom of expression even in those times, when the themes and style of painting were dictated by the regime, and cliche dominated art. Emotionality, poetism, appeal to universal values, such as maternity, kindness and cruelty, peace and war - all of these were the features characterizing the art of Azerbaijani women-artists. Nature is delicately reflected in their paintings. The past and present and spiritual values of different epochs are expressed in bright and impressive images.
The works of younger generation artists, such as S. Shihiinskaya, A. Rzakulieva, R. Arnrahova, A. Narimanbekova, N. Narimanbekova, 1. Zeinalova, S. Ahverdieva and V. Efendieva, are examples of the brilliant combination of individual vision and styles of modem art. Azerbaijani woman, due to national and religious norms, has been the main guardians of traditions in the family. She keeps and practices the traditional rites, skills of carpet-making and embroidery, and passes her experience from one generation to the next. Therefore, the works of women artists carry the essential traditional elements - utilization of bright and decorative colors and great interest in ornament. This is seen in the examples of decorative applied art - ceramics, carpet tapestry (gobelin), etc.. The famous artists are: I) in ceramics, S. Ahverdieva, N. Sultanova and A. Guseinova; and II) the masters of gobelin, B. Sharifova and F. Guseinova. There are also very talented women architects, such as A. Salamova, Sh. Zeinalova, N. Ahundova, A. Gasanova, R. Efendizade and others, who have contributed significantly to the development of national architecture. Many artists combine their creative work with teaching art (the Sunday school-studio of Creative Development of Children of S. Shihiinskaya, the school-studio of Children's Art of K. Gazi) at colleges and at the University of Arts.
Legally Azeri women artists have opportunities equal to their male counterparts to develop their talents and potential. All of them are active participants of exhibitions, and many of them hold personal exhibitions in Azerbaijan and abroad. Their works are also in many private collections and galleries abroad.
The Women's Art Society "Arta", which is unique in the world, was established in Azerbaijan in 1996. The society "Arta", unites artists, musicians, architects, art critics, and representatives of theater, with an aim to support women's creative initiatives, to protect their rights, and to coordinate the efforts of all women in arts.
On the eve of the Beijing Conference a series of exhibitions called "the Woman in the Fine Arts of Azerbaijan" were held in Baku. The exhibition was held in the best art galleries, where woman was presented as the subject and the object of Fine Arts. The sculptures, paintings, decorative and applied arts of women artists were exhibited there.
One of the most important women's organizations in Azerbaijan is the Network Women's Program -- OSI Assistance Foundation Azerbaijan, which works to improve communication between women throughout the world. You can contact them through Ulviya Mikailova here, or write to them at this postal address: OSI Assistance Foundation Azerbaijan, Prospect Azadylg 39, Apt. 52, BAku 370010, AZERBAIJAN.
Azerbaijan joined the Network Women's Program in 1998. The Network Women's Program has a main objective: to involve women personally in active particapation in humanitarian actions, women's and gender research, law making, political and labor rights defense, and economic and social issues. The NWP gives new and wide opportunities to Azeri women to achieve internationally recognized standarts in all spheres of life. After consultations with representatives of women's NGOs, we selected four priority Program Areas on which we are concentrating in 1999. These are:
1. Women and Education
Activities in the framework of this program will focus on creating and developing a women's and gender studies program to facilitate their institutionalization in a higher education system; encouraging the academic institutions and different women's and student's groups, all interested in gender related possibilities and resources.
2. Women's Participation in Public Life
There is a situation in Azerbaiajan which is typical for countries in transition: a gap between words and decalarations to build a democracy and the achievement of this real situation in society. This program will advance politically aware and consistent button-down initiatives able to change such a situation and push creating a real mechanism of open civil society building. This will include a series of Human Rights Advanced Leadership Training for Women, the translation, publication and distribution of Women's Human Rights Step by Step, and support to pilot projects worked out by participants of Human Rights Leadership Training for Women. Our goals are: to train women leaders enabled to advance women's human rights in national context; to create a body of women enabled to improve conditions of community everyday life of women and girls; and to reinforce women's participation in governmental management and in social and political life.
3. Information, Documentation and Media
The OSI-Azerbaijan will join this program in 1999, and will focus on information exchange among women's NGOs, in collaboration with the Network EAST-WEST Women to create a webpage for Azeri women and to provide an OSI Network Women's Program Newsletter and Women's website information about country women's activities.
4. Women's Health
It is hoped that the survey on women's breast cancer in Azerbaijan will provide necessary data to work out the national program of activities. We will also translate, print and distribute brochures on breast cancer selftesting brochure.
COPYRIGHT 1999 KRISTIN SWITALA. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.