What does it mean to be a feminist in Azerbaijan?
On February 4, a group of Azerbaijani feminists held a rally in front of the Government House in Baku.
They raised banners with the words ‘Femicide is political’, thereby trying to draw attention to the issue of domestic violence in the country. The police broke up the protest.
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From the discussions that unfolded on social media after the rally, it is clear that many do not understand the meaning of the word “feminism” itself, let alone its essence. To clarify the topic and get answers to other interesting questions, JAMnews talked with participants of the rally – Gulnara Mekhtiyeva and Narmin Shahmarzade.
A question many cannot answer
Gulnara Mehdiyeva says that women in a patriarchal society face a number of problems just because they born to women. At the top of the list of such problems are domestic violence and femicide.
“If the prevention of tragedies experienced by women is impossible without political intervention, then these crimes are political. We are not trying to say that these killings are a political order – no, we are only emphasizing their political nature. Because the agencies responsible for preventing this kind of violence and murder are not doing their job.
“If women’s problems stem from ignorance, unemployment, the indifference of law enforcement agencies, from the fact that the legislation does not provide any proper protection mechanisms, then how can we reduce these problems to the level of a ‘family matter’, ‘personal issues’ or ‘ some man got angry’, moving away from their political essence?”, Mehdiyeva asks.
Is March 8 really Women’s Day?
“The tradition of holding rallies on March 8 has been inherited by us historically. Over time, this day has been transformed into a holiday, with discounts on perfumes, cosmetics, and teddy bears.
“Historically, this day was offered to women who wished to rally for their rights and freedoms. We’re just bringing history back. In my opinion, we were very late with the revival of the March 8 rallies”, says Mehdiyeva.
Is there a feminist organization in Azerbaijan?
There is no organization in the country where prominent feminists can work together and there are several reasons for this. Mehdiyeva believes that the main reason is the current political environment.
“Tough regulations imposed on non-governmental organizations create problems. We, as a movement, were formed relatively recently. Our history is only two or three years old”, Mehdiyeva says.
Mehdiyeva has been actively engaged in various feminist initiatives. One of them was the White Stripe organization which functioned as a fund for female victims of domestic violence. Members of the initiative also shared educational materials on the types of violence in their blogs, but, unfortunately, this group has ceased to operate.
“Currently one of the most active feminist initiatives is the Fem-utopia channel on YouTube. I am working on this channel, it is the first feminist channel in Azerbaijan that produces educational materials in the Azerbaijani language. I want to do everything in my power to develop this channel and I don’t see myself in any other NGO. This platform is convenient for me, as it allows me to express an independent opinion on any issue. Still, I would like to see more feminists and for them to unite”, Mehdiyeva said.
Another participant of the protest, Narmin Shahmarzadeh told us about the essence of feminism.
Waves of feminism
“The first wave of feminism demanded political and cultural equality for women. In other words, it derived from the idea that women have the same rights as men. In those days, women had no rights over their own children, had no right to vote, and fought for it.
“The second wave of feminism draws attention to issues related to sexuality. Women tried to fight against the pressure on issues related to their own bodies. As an example, we can talk about abortion. They fought against such prejudices as ‘You are a mother’, ‘You are a woman, your main function is to bear children’.
“The third wave of feminism includes gender issues and the problems of combating racism”, Narmin says.
How do women mobilize?
Narmin says: “Different people, even those who do not call themselves a feminist in ordinary life, join us on this day. Under normal circumstances, these rallies would have been quite calm, but due to the constant interference of the police, they are all remembered as scandals.
With official permission granted, the rally would be quiet, we would voice our demands peacefully. That’s how people who had no idea about the rally find out about it, but the police create a negative image of what is happening”.
How feminists keep in touch
“We communicate mainly via social media. Someone posts about a topic, discussions begin in the comments, groups, and so on. If an event is held, materials and photographs about it are distributed and everyone can see them.
Many people find each other on social media, and after that, we meet with those whose ideas are closer to ours to share our thoughts”, Shahmarzadeh explained.