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.
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.