During the Soviet period, Azerbaijan women played an important role in the economic and social-political development of the country. In accordance with a certain quota, women made up 40$ of elected management bodies including the Parliament. Illiteracy among women had been completely eradicated. After the collapse of the Soviet regime, the disintegration of the old economic system was accompanied by the stratification of the population with the enrichment of a majority of the population. The economic and social-political difficulties of transition to a market economy in Azerbaijan are aggravated by nine years of Armenian aggression.
Unemployment rates for women have rapidly increased and over 70% of free labour is also provided by women. Wages have decreased in all sectors of industry and agriculture: in many cases people earn under US$20 or even US$10 per month which is ten times lower than the cost of a consumer bag with minimum groceries for a household. The share of women engaged in full time housework increased by 2-3 times the previous rate under the Soviet occupation. Over 90% of the households were found to be below the poverty line. A new category of vulnerable people has emerged - those who can barely survive in the transition - they include women, children, the elderly, families of war martyrs now headed by women, refugees and internally displaced persons.
Basic Indicators (Source: UNDP Human Development Report, 1997)
Maternal Mortality: NA (per 100,000 live births)
Female Labour Force Participation: NA
Female Literacy: 96.3%
Female Political Participation (seats held in parliament): NA
International Instruments Signed or Ratified
- International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1966
- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966
- International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Rural Discrimination, 1969
- Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, 1948
- Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989
- Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women, 1979
- Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, 1984
- Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, 1951
Due to aggravation of the economic and social situation, a rather rapid decrease in the birth rate from 24.2% to 19.3% is observed. At the same time there is a preference for having middle-sized families. Ten years ago the number of children being a third baby in the family made up 41% , today it has reduced to 28%. One of the reasons is the increased rate of early divorces. The annual number of marriages is nearly 60,000 and there are 7,000 divorces every year. Approximately 60% of women (1.5 million) over the age of 16 are married. The number of women getting married under the age of 20 is increasing. The number of women in the fertile age-group make up about 2 million. At the same time, only 34% of them are not married.
Together with high birth rates, infant and maternal mortality rates are also high. Statistics reveal that over 80% of pregnant women and those in child birth suffer from anemia. Out of the 3,324,000 women who make up 51% of the population, more than 1,600,000 have children. Children under 14 years of age account for 2.5 million persons and make up 33% of the country's population. Over 1,200,000 of these children are pre-school age.
Immediately after returning from the Beijing Conference and the NGO Forum, we organised many meeting in high schools and different organisations and with rural and refugee women. The Azerbaijan Women and Development Centre (AWDC) organised two meetings with the participation of women, youth and NGOs. Azerbaijan participants at the Beijing Conference spoke about events at Beijing and discussed women and development issues. At the same time, the post-Beijing activities in Azerbaijan were discussed and different proposals for the National Plan of Action were put forward. Unfortunately, as the government has not adopted the National Plan of Action, AWDC has been serving as the national clearing house for information and NGO focal point for implementation activities.
The Platform for Action and the Women's Convention were translated into our native Azerbaijan language. Zonal conferences in Baku and rural districts were organised where these strategic documents were explained and discussed. AWDC practically became the clearing house for disseminating information on the Platform for Action and lobbying local women's and youth NGOs on implementation.
Organising for Implementation
Information Dissemination and Lobbying Activities
Women's groups have organised around each main concern of the Platform for Action. National priorities have been identified, while research and practical events are ongoing. The advocacy process is in place with contacts being forged with different governmental bodies.
The proposals for a Constitution and new laws on health, culture including the memory of the war martyrs have been proposed. Legislative changes to make the law more gender sensitive have been worked out and forwarded to the constitutional commission and Parliament. Women have taken part in discussions of their proposals in Parliamentary Commissions and some of the proposals have been adopted. NGO representatives were invited as independent experts on the formation of new laws. Women activists are therefore involved in decision-making. Women's NGOs were also invited to the Social Protection Commission of Parliament to discuss their particular problems. Azerbaijan women have identified poverty and unemployment as their most pressing concerns.
Priority Issues and Actions
Poverty: the situation of women's poverty during situations of armed conflict was studied and proposals on poverty alleviation have been sent to the World Bank. A report entitled "Hunger is a Sister of War" was prepared and sent to the Food and Agriculture Organisations.
Lists of poorest people (the needy, the elderly, women-headed families and widows) were prepared and presented to the World Food Programme for food assistance. Food and non-food relief dissemination is organised for refugees who have been living for prolonged time in tents. Training programmes for rural women have been provided and income generation schemes created. A woman owner of a farm was awarded an international prize for women's initiatives in rural life. Income generation projects/programmes are also managed by refugee women who are supported in their endeavours by business women from the private sector. Some new women-headed farms will be established in different rural districts in the future.
Education and Training: women's and children's education and professional skills training for women are issues of concern in Azerbaijan women. These issues were discussed by women and the representatives of the Ministry of Education. The discussions covered the situation of education in secondary schools, high schools, and women's and refugee collectives.
AWDC, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Youth, youth NGOs and children's organisations and the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS), organised an international meeting to address education concerns. The recommendations from the meeting were welcomed by both foreign and local participants.
Women have participated in the implementation of a UNICEF programme on organising kindergartens in the rural districts and training of the teachers. Training for refugee women is also provided by the programme. There are also ongoing education programmes to continue the education process of refugees and internally displaced persons right up to their repatriation.
Health: women's health is important particularly in situations of armed conflict, ecological disasters and escalating poverty. Programmes on reproductive health including family planning programmes are carried out in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, UN bodies (UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF) and international NGOs. AWDC organised the first community based family planning service in the rural district of Sheki and provided training for rural women.
Information on pregnancy for women and adolescent girls, contraception, breastfeeding, baby-care and other issues are disseminated to refugee and non-refugee women in the urban and rural regions. To reach these goals many seminars and meeting with the women's communities are organised, baseline surveys are prepared by AWDC volunteers and recommendations are sent to the Ministry of Health and UNFPA.
Groups of volunteer doctors visit the refugee sites and provide free community based medical services for needy people, particularly women, the elderly and children who are unable to cover transportation and medical service expenses. Free medicines are distributed to them as well.
The main aims of the reproductive health services are to:
- Provide information and services for planning a family;
- Disseminate family planning methods including the rhythm method through providing information;
- Provide effective contraceptive methods for those who need it but employ none;
- Minimise and terminate abortion practices as a family planning method due to lack of contraceptive methods and materials.
Environment: the environment and the sustainable development issue is particularly problematic given the widely developed petro-chemical industries in Azerbaijan. AWDC devotes special attention to environmental issues connected with the reproductive health of women and the general health of children.
Armed Conflict: one of the main issues for our women is women in war and situations of armed conflict. Women work with the war victims' families, hostages, refugees, internally displaced persons, widows, orphans and disabled persons. Azeri women appealed to the 40th Session of UN Commission on the States of Women calling for the implementation of the 39th Session's recommendation to the international community on the rapid and unconditional release of all civilian hostages in areas of armed conflict.
As a result of the nine years of Armenian aggression we have lost more than 20% of our territory and the civil population of these regions have fled from fire and death. We have more than a million refugees and internally displaced persons in our country. Most of them are in refugee camps and exposed to different human rights violations.
We promote research, data collection, compilation of statistics, research analysis and work out conclusions on the main problems affecting refugees in camps. Recommendations which are based on the results of the research findings obtained from expeditions to refugee camps in rural regions, have been sent to the Cabinet, the Parliament, Ministers of Health, Education, other government agencies including international representatives of UN organisations.
AWDC has prepared a survival programme for 6,000 refugees and IDPs who live in ecologically hard situations in the 1,200 tents at the Saatli-1 Camp. This programme begain in 1995 with the participation of some women, youths and civic NGOs with support from business women in the private sector, the International Federation of Red Cross, UNDP, UNICEF, UNFPA and others. Thousands of people received some relief - food, clothing and medicines - that is necessary for their survival. This activity was highly appreciated.
Peace: peace is of vital importance to Azerbaijan women. Programmes on peace are ongoing at AWDC since 1994. We disseminate the actual information on the results of Armenian aggression on Azerbaijan to the international community. We have appealed to the international community to stop all armed conflicts, inhuman tortures and violations of human rights and to hasten the enforcement of international peace convention, legislative norms and UN decrees in times of war and armed conflicts.
Peace is the key for survival and sustainable development in Azerbaijan. NGOs in Azerbaijan involved in initiatives include AWDC, Simurg Cultural Association, the Union of Youth Organisations, Children's Organisations, Martyr's Children and Mothers Association, Organisations of Disabled Persons and Hawa, the Centre for Jerwish women. They are all members of the Alliance for Peace and Development in Azerbaijan. The Alliance, a member of the international peace bureau, supports the idea of Nobel Peace laureates to declare the first ten years of the new millenium as the decade of non-violence.
Human Rights: AWDC has organised regular conferences and workshops in cities and rural districts on women's human rights. The promotion of women's human rights is being conducted through networking both regionally and internationally and advocating through information and documentation.
The Beijing Conference encouraged the growth of new women's organisations. Today we have 20 women's groups in Azerbaijan working on key issues of concern - particularly peace, release of hostages, gender equality and women's empowerment. Networking initiatives have placed Azeri women's concerns on the international women's movement agenda. Azeri women are working incessantly to keep the promises made at Beijing and to help our women find the most effective paths to equality, development and peace on the eve of the new millennium.