Voices Against Violence: The Women of Azerbaijan

January 17, 2017

“We want to help women who face domestic violence in our country to feel safe, to be able to protect themselves, feel stronger and empowered for themselves and for their children, and for that good reason provide them with necessary support and services.” – Zumrud Jalilova.

The Study Tour began at Counterpart International headquarters where they women met with our gender expert, Maria Witz (not pictured)

The Study Tour began at Counterpart International headquarters where they women met with our gender expert, Maria Witz (not pictured)

For the women of Azerbaijan, the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, adopted in 2010, guaranteed survivors equal rights to protection under the law. However, conservative traditions and the cloud of silence have meant that the vision of the legislation is still far from achieved. While few have been brave enough to tackle the issue head on, Counterpart International recently met with four courageous women who are advocating for change.

Ending Gender Based Violence One Woman at a Time

It was a cold winter morning in Washington DC when women leaders from the Women’s Participation Program in Azerbaijan arrived for the first time in the United States to spend a week on a Study Tour organized by Counterpart International.

By connecting these women to American service providers combatting gender-based violence, these four young Azerbaijani activists were exposed to new learnings and best practices to bring back to their homeland.

Azerbaijani women meet with Doorways for Women & Families

Azerbaijani women meet with the leaders of Doorways for Women & Families in Fairfax, Virginia

The tour brought the activists to some of the DC areas most respected and long serving organizations and government agencies working against domestic violence.  By actively participating in discussions of strategy, the group intended to learn and incorporate best practices into their future gender advocacy work in Azerbaijan.

Constructive dialogues took place around shelter operations and how to implement financial and legal services for domestic violence survivors.

The group also met with Victims Specialists at the Victim Services Section of the Fairfax County Police Department. What was significant for the Azerbaijani women was the criminal recognition of gender-based and domestic violence and the commitment to addressing it through the application of strong laws and services. For example, American police officers and victim services staff are trained to recognize early signs of domestic violence and survivors can request shelter services directly from an officer. Fairfax County has also established a 24-hour Domestic Violence Victim’s hotline that discretely serves women in the surrounding area. It is these kinds of programs, understandings and responses, the women of Azerbaijan hope to one day see at home.

The Azerbaijani women met with representatives from D.C. Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA)

The Azerbaijani women met with representatives from D.C. Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA)

“It was a privilege to organize this study tour for such ambitious young women who want to help stop gender-based violence in Azerbaijan. They know that change will not come over night, but that it starts with them, and what they can do to change stereotypes. The study tour had a profound impact on these courageous women and know it will help them make change in Azerbaijan,” says Gozel Arazmedova, Program Officer. And it was equally motivational for the participants.

“We met with people who listened to our stories and understood us very well, assured us that we have friends in the field, standing arm and arm with us as we blaze new trails to create safety for survivors of domestic violence” explained Zumrud Jalilova, an activist from WoWoman Network, and professor of Gender Studies at Baku State University in Azerbaijan. She continued, “We would like to thank those people we met from the victims’ centers, shelters and the police who are contributing to their communities and encouraging people overseas like us with the work they do every day.”

A famous Azerbaijani proverb says, “Without sowing a single wheat you would not harvest thousand ones.” As we watch women like Zumrud stand tall against the grain, we are hopeful that one activist working to reduce gender-based violence in Azerbaijan will encourage one thousand.

The Women’s Participation Program in Azerbaijan is implemented by Counterpart International and funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the generous support of American people.