by and

Filed under: Development Gender equality Social inclusion

a young teacher with her new students in Sabaribad

Gunay Hasanli returned to her native Sabirabad to work as a teacher after finishing her university education

In Azerbaijan, especially in rural areas, there exists a very powerful term for women who don’t follow the rules: ‘pis giz’ – or bad girl.

For an Azerbaijani woman, being called a pis giz is more than just a gender slur. It can mean the total loss of respect in her community, ineligibility for marriage, and the end of a once-bright future.

Unfortunately, it is very easy to become a target for this derogatory term: the simple act of being seen in an internet cafe or participating in a public event is all it takes. As a consequence, access to public places for many rural women is limited. 

Things, however, are starting to change.

In the small rural city of Sabirabad, the region’s first women’s resource centre has recently opened its doors. A joint project between UNDP in Azerbaijan and local government, the centre offers a safe public space that so many rural Azerbaijani women have long been denied.

Part of a larger project

The top priorities for the women’s resource centre are to provide a safe environment for women to educate themselves and cultivate real social and economic opportunities.

The centre has received the support of the Azerbaijani government’s State Committee for Family, Women and Children’s Affairs in meeting the country’s commitments to the first and third Millennium Development Goals, the Beijing Declaration and Action Platform.

It’s just one element of the joint project for promoting rural women’s participation in social and economic life, which is hoping to build on the success of Sabirabad in other regions of the country.

The women’s resource centre in Sabirabad is making great strides thus far, with 17 committed members and more and more local women participating each day.

The programme team is also in the process of acquiring NGO status for the resource centres, which will allow for their long-term sustainability and the ability to apply for different types of funding.

big group of women in Azerbaijan smiling

Project participants celebrate the opening of the women’s resource center with UNDP Deputy Resident Representative Nato Alhazishvili

The human impact

Gunay Hasanli is a recent graduate student of Odlar Yurdu University with big plans to launch her career away from the bustling capital of Baku. She has come home to Sabirabad to contribute her knowledge and skills to a place that needs it most.

Gunay came to the women’s resource centre at its inception and has been integral to its development as a multifaceted space providing women with the space and the tools necessary to become socially and economically empowered. She says:

“When I was a child, I saw that many women in Sabirabad could not find a job to take care of their children. They were also victims of domestic violence. Everything happened due to lack of education. Seeing Sabirabad’s women socially active and economically empowered is my dream. I have seen how a woman can suffer if they don’t have a chance to integrate into society. My goal is to realize this dream with the education I have obtained.”

From managing the centre’s outreach and public relations to leading weekly IT and finance classes, Gunay has come to symbolize the hope the centre has for all the women who take advantage of its services.

A model for the future?

With young women like Gunay taking the helm of civil society in rural Azerbaijan, is this the start of a new era for the rapidly developing country?

Join the discussion and let us know what you think are the greatest barriers to equality that rural women face today.


  • United Aid for Azerbaijan

    Excellent initiative. At UAFA, we established pre-school groups for children in communities which rely on the involvement of parents, typically mothers, to support the teacher so that more children have access to pre-school. This gives these mothers about the only opportunity they have to leave their house and socialise with other women. They also learn a lot too because we provide parenting education and information, so everyone benefits. Giving women more freedom to socialise with women other than their relatives will benefit Azerbaijan’s children and society enormously.

    • Ruslan Ismayil-zada

      This is great. If you are currently active
      in Sabirabad or will be in future in Neftchala region (where we plan to open
      second WRC) we may discuss possible ways of collaboration.

  • Agalarova

    this can make a positive impact on Azerbaijanian’s women. This is just a beginning. I hope it will change an idea like ”bad girl”. Because every women deserves live as they wish and get education. there shouldn’t be inequality between genders in society. Good luck!

    • Ruslan Ismayil-zada

      It really does make a big difference in the
      lives of women. It is planned to create Local NGO in Sabirabad with the active
      members of the WRC. Women participated in proposal writing training, gaining
      skills in developing and managing projects. This will allow women to apply for
      different funding opportunities and to ensure sustainability of the project and
      to make even more impact on women and also the community, to increase their
      participation in social and economic development

  • Raeesa

    This can make a great difference in building lives. UN please start these projects in Pakistan and India also.

  • Tarana

    I am based in Sabirabad where UNDP opened a resource center. I’ve been dealing with gender issues women’s rights, domestic violence, early marriages, sexual harassment in public places and transport myself as a freelance consultant for already 5 yrs throughout the country and my home town as well. It’s still a big challenge in Sabirabad and many other rural areas of the country for women to know more about their rights and actually be able to practice them. With no education, job skills and job, it is very hard for women here to stand up and express their objection when they are harassed, disrespected and their rights are violated. When I first came back from the capital to my home town 3 yrs ago, I felt this gap was so huge between there and here, I was shocked and am still on how this can be improved. But we still keep trying together with LNOs and Women Committee branches here. I still believe in one thing. We can’t just concentrate specifically on women’s rights and gender issues unless educating people on their rights as human beings as a whole. The mere rights as going to visit your parents any time you want, go to bazaar and shopping by yourself and others are such a bog issue for women here not talking about their status in family. In family daughter-in-law gelin doesn’t have a voice and right to tell out her decision and feeling if she lives with her husband’s parents. And these cases are so many down here that I am like Do we really live in computer age or what?

    • Ruslan Ismayil-zada

      Please, meet with Mrs. Gulara Humbatova (our Project Manager) on the 7th of May at WRC and discuss
      possible cross-cutting activities

  • Tarana

    I’d like to cooperate with UNDP here in Sabirabad on this project and share with my knowledge and skills with project participants at its event. I can be reached on I’d be happy to contribute to UNDP efforts here in my home town with women. Good luck!!!

    • Ruslan Ismayil-zada

      Tarana, this would be great, as we always
      need motivated people to support project activities implementation and to apply
      skills and experience in further development of WRC. Please visit WRC and fill
      in the application form for becoming a member of the WRC. On the 7-8th
      of May we are planning a training: NGO establishment and management, where
      active members of WRC will gain skills related to the activity and they will
      further agree on next steps for WRC established as LNGO. Your presence is