By Jennifer Brookland

In the campaign to eliminate discrimination against women, information can be a powerful instrument. To encourage greater news coverage of the problem in Azerbaijan, a coalition of organizations is offering prizes to journalists who pen compelling stories about the issue.  As reporters are recognized for reporting on gender violence and discrimination, the public will gain awareness and insight into these complex social problems.

“In my view, media is a powerful tool in shaping public opinion and plays an important role in refuting stereotypes about women that exist in our mass consciousness,” says Shahla Ismayil, the Chairperson of the Women’s Association for Rational Development (WARD).

Ismayil said the contest for journalists is aimed at raising the quality of reporting on gender equality. She announced the competition at a Nov. 26 press conference in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.

It corresponds with the International Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women and the 16 Days campaign, an annual call to action against gender-based violence.

WARD and 12 other nongovernmental organizations have formed several coalitions to raise public awareness about women’s rights, increase women’s decision-making power and facilitate their political participation.

Counterpart assists these coalitions of women’s rights-focused NGOs under the auspices of the two-year U.S. Agency for International Development-supported Women’s Participation Project.

Under the project, Counterpart also supports the government of Azerbaijan as it implements the United Nations’ Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which Azerbaijan acceded to in 1995.

In signing the Convention, the country committed to abolishing all discriminatory laws and ensuring women have equal access to political and public life including health, education and employment.

“In the world community of the twenty first century, women have rights equal to those of men, as well as equal opportunities,” said Ismayil.

But in Azerbaijan, that equality remains aspirational.

More than 75 percent of Azerbaijanis think men should have the final word about decisions in the home, according to a 2012 survey by the Caucasus Research Resource Centers. Early marriage remains problematic in rural areas, where UNICEF reports girls as young as 13 or 14 become child brides.

By building the capacity of local journalists and reporters, coalition leaders hope they can bring these important gender issues to light.

The competition is open until December 26 to all media professionals, who may compete in two categories: “best article on gender equality” and “best journalist investigation of discrimination against women and ways to overcome it.”

The authors of the two best articles on gender equality will win cash prizes. The winner of the investigative category will be able to attend the CEDAW conference in New York in 2014 with expenses paid for by WARD.

Reporting for this piece contributed by Altinay Kuchukeeva