Feminism in Azerbaijan
Women in Azerbaijan
[Copyright 1999 Ulviya T. Mikailova.]
Through granting important but not key posts to women in the party and Soviet administrative bodies, the illusion of women's participation in the political life of the country was created. This illusion was dispelled quickly after the collapse of the Soviet system. In the beginning of 1991, women made up about 40% of the Supreme Soviet of the Azerbaijan Republic: in 1992 they were only 6%. After the last elections (1995) the ratio was 12%, which testifies to the positive dynamics of the present situation and raises hopes for future gender equality (See Table 1). The major factors which promoted this trend and are continuing to influence women's push for political equality are the Resolutions of the 4th World Women's Conference (Beijing 1995), as a result of which the Beijing Platform of Action was adopted. Intensive development of the legislative basis of women's equality on the one hand, and their subordinate position in real life on the other, creates a false impression of their well-being. At the same time the masculinisation of the decision making level has strengthened. Thus the political sphere is deprived of women's contribution to decisions taken at the policy making level.
Women's position in the sphere of education
According to the Constitution of the Azerbaijan Republic women have equal rights to education with men. These rights are confirmed by the Law on Education (article 3) All citizens are guaranteed free secondary education with co-education of girls and boys. Private higher education is endorsed by the legislation. Currently modern educational institutions, such as lyceums, colleges, and schools, are being established. Establishment of foreign educational institutions is also allowed (Turkish lyceums, International schools, etc.). All these reforms broaden access to education and the choice of educational institutions; however, they also restrict the access of the poorer sections of the society to these high-standard educational institutions.
In 1995-96, 50.8% of pupils in state day schools were girls, which is 0.4 percentage point lower than in 1994. This declining tendency indicates a reduced access of women to education. In 1989, the literacy rate among women was 99.9%. In 1996, however, their literacy rate was down to 96.8%. In 1996, girls constituted 46% of the total number of students. On the other hand, the number of girl-matriculants surpasses the number of boy-matriculants. Therefore, out of the total number of urban matriculants in 1996, girls made up 55% and dominated in some specialities.
The number of women working in the sphere of education increased in comparison to 1990, making up 65% of the total in 1996. However, in the sphere of administrative management of education women constitute the minority. Only 14.7% of them are school directors. There are only 2 women among rectors of 23 state and 21 private higher educational institutions (4.5% of the total number). Is this a sign of discrimination or a display of reduced activity of women in educational management due to their combined responsibilities at work and within the family? The elimination of the social benefits provided to working mothers (such as kindergartens, day nurseries, etc.) is a crucial issue that requires special attention.
Women constitute 41 % of the number of specialists in arts and sciences with higher education. For the last few years, the reduction of expenditures on science (0.1 % of GDP in 1996 compared to 0.3% in 1985) and the decline in the demand for scientific research has led to the lack of employment opportunities for highly qualified experts, including women, in the sciences. Wasting women's intellectual potential in this respect curtails scientific development and technical progress in the country.
Women, family and children
Women and Family
In Azerbaijan the family plays an important role, ranking high in the hierarchy of traditional values. Traditionally the Azerbaijani family has always been large. However, over time there has been a reduction of the family size. Currently the average number of children per family is three, while in 1959 it was five. If 10 years ago the share of families with more than two children made up 41 % of the total number of families, today this share is only 28%. The reason for this is not only the worsening of living standards. The male casualties of the military conflict (including the dead and the invalids) and the men leaving the country in search of jobs also account for the reduction of the number of marriages, in spite of the low rate of divorces (8 marriages and I divorce per 1,000 citizens). This factor also accounts for the increase in the number of women who have never been married (34.2% now compared to 23% in 1993). This number is higher than in other countries of the CIS. The number of women of child bearing age is about 2 min in contrast to 1.8 min in 1993.
Legally, the marriage age for women is lower than for men by I year (the Law of 1992). In cases of divorce, women have equal rights with men and equal responsibilities for child care. According to surveys, women's role in the family is ambiguous. Within the family, although seemingly subordinate to men, women do not necessarily compromise in decision making, actively resisting and defending their opinions. According to the results of the Needs Assessment Survey of UNDP (1997), 26% of women are exposed to domestic violence. A quarter of women confirmed regular beatings and a ban on leaving the house alone. At the same time more than half (52%) assert that their husbands would not object to their working even if there were financial difficulties in the families. Women's dominance in the Azerbaijani family since ancient times, which has gone through transformations under the influence of Islamic restrictions, was supported by the ideology of the Soviet socialist establishment. As a result, within the relationship between man and woman, the active, albeit cover, position of the woman became common. Although the man seemed to be the active partner, this was just a cover-up for a more passive role in real life. Woman's active position supported by her education allows her to be aware of her potential and to strive for its realisation. All of these factors in combination with women's stronger sense of independence and greater responsibility and efficiency create the potential for women to become key actors in promoting social and economic progress in Azerbaijan.
Women and children
During recent years a certain level of progress has been achieved in terms of reducing the infant mortality rate: 23.3 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1995 and 21.3 in 1996 in contrast to 28.2 in 1993. In comparison with 1994 the maternal mortality rate has decreased. However, according to the international standards it is still high: 37.0 per 100,000 live births. Military conflict has extensively damaged the country. One of its consequences is the sharp increase in the numbers of orphans and street children. The official statistics cover only the number of children in state shelters and do not reflect the real situation. Due to national traditions, the relatives of the orphans prefer not to give them to state shelters, but rather take them into their families.
COPYRIGHT 1999 KRISTIN SWITALA. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.