In honor of International Women’s Day, Counterpart will be highlighting women around the world. Enjoy this post and the others posted today, March 8, 2013:

While most women in Azerbaijan never achieve prominence in public and professional roles, Aytekin Verdiyeva has defied the odds.

At the age of 28, struggling to find employment and losing confidence, she began attending women’s leadership workshops organized by the Ganja Regional Women’s Center as part of Counterpart’s Women’s Participation Program.

She rose through the ranks of the Azerbaijani government, and after beating out other qualified candidates and excelling at the written test exams and interviews, she is now the Senior Advisor of the State Social Security Fund.

In honor of International Women’s Day, we sat down with Aytekin to discuss her success and her hopes for the future:

Tell me about your life before you began participating with the women’s leadership center. What were your strengths and weaknesses? What were your hopes for yourself professionally?

I led a very stable life, though it started to become a bit boring. I became loaded with family and children concerns, stress at work and other factors like that. However my career was as vital as my family. And I knew that I had to start somewhere and change things in a positive way.

What motivated you to start attending leadership workshops at the Ganja Regional Women’s Center?

I was aware of Ganja Regional Women Center and its success. But after attending a few events, I was even more pleased. In my opinion, each woman who loves her work yearns for leadership and success. And it’s the same for me. I am very happy with my participation in the leadership workshop.

Tell me about the other women you interacted with there.

During the workshop, I met lots of new people and was exposed to many issues, many of which I could relate to. We all were thinking and wishing for the same thing: we wanted independence and equality. And I was very happy to be among women who dreamt of that success and managed to achieve it.

What is it like to be a woman in Azerbaijan? What kinds of challenges, limits, and opportunities shape your lives the most?

It’s great to be a woman in Azerbaijan – women here have high morals and values. At the same time, women here face certain restrictions and barriers, shaped by public attitudes toward women, especially in the way they present themselves in public and pursue professional opportunities.

You asked me how it feels to be an Azerbaijani woman. The most highly regarded role for women here is that of a mother; each woman is expected to fulfill this duty. To be a mother is to give all your time to your family and limited time to yourself – to put your family’s concerns above your own. To raise wonderful children is a must for Azerbaijani women; it’s expected that all women be selfless in the name of their children and their families.

What was the response of your family when you began taking leadership workshops? What about your friends?

My family and friends supported my participation in the leadership workshops, because they saw my determination, and they saw how excited they made me. Their support makes me very happy and encourages me to become even more involved.

In your opinion, how do men view women’s political participation in Azerbaijan?

Women have great leadership potential to really assert themselves in politics, culture, and in other spheres of public life. They make for good politicians. Unfortunately, Azerbaijani men do not always share this view. The majority of men in Azerbaijan don’t support women’s political aspirations or participation. But I hope it will change for the better over time.

Do you think the role of women in Azerbaijan is changing? In what ways?

The role of Azerbaijani woman is changing in a positive direction indeed. The success of the Ganja Regional Women’s Center is an obvious example of this change. Azerbaijani women will strengthen their place in society over time. I am sure of it.

How did the leadership workshops lead you to professional success?

Leadership workshops were really the launch point for my professional success. I am very pleased to be headed in the right direction.

Did you benefit in any other ways from the workshops, or from your participation at the women’s center?

I have gained a lot from experience from the workshops and Ganja Regional Women’s Center. They helped me to express myself, and they nurtured a sense of self-confidence within me.  They reminded me of my potential – that anything is possible if you really want it and you put your mind to it.

What is your favorite memory so far from the work you are now doing with the government?

Being a socially conscious person was always one of the most important priorities for me. The prestige that my work provided helped me achieve it. Engaging with people on different issues and dedicating my time to solving their issues inspires me and makes me feel like I am making a difference in people’s lives.

What would you like to see for women in politics, or in life in general in your country?

Azerbaijan is a democracy. We live in a country where we have freedom of speech, which we should be able to exercise to demand protection of our rights. I would also like to see democracy exercised at the household level, as families constitute integral building blocks of the larger state. I want to see gender equality applied to everyone, without discrimination, and I believe that we can and will achieve that.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us or any other message you have on the International Day of Women?

I would like to express my gratitude to Ganja Regional Women’s Center for the services they provide, and for their intense focus on women. International Women’s Day is approaching. I congratulate all women on this important day. I wish them a beautiful and meaningful life.

Finally, I would like to say that the world is beautiful with women, and every woman should try to maintain and develop this beauty. They should know their rights and freedoms and always be brave.

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