Thursday, 30 October 2008

Azerbaijan: Gender inequality, selective abortion, forced marriages

Universal Periodic Review, UN Human Rights

As a country with strong Islamic traditions, Azerbaijan has strict gender norms and social norms focus on heterosexual-centered and extended family. The family decision-making is focused on the elders of the family who make decisions for all other family members and keep the traditions.

Gender-based restrictions represent one of the key issues in the field of sexual and reproductive rights for both women and men. The society values men over women because ethnicity and family name is passed through men. Many families decide to abort female fetuses. The estimates are that there are 110000 fewer girls in 0-19 year old age category than men. In 0-4 age cohort there are 10% more boys than girls.[1] In 2006 newborn boys made 3 to 1 ration to newborn girls. Medical specialists report that 4 out of 10 women request abortion due to female gender of the fetus.[2] Women who give birth to girls lost their social status and some men may choose to divorce their wife if she is not able to produce male offspring. As many as 23% of respondents interviewed for 2005 Azeri shadow report on CEDAW implementation stated that they aborted their pregnancy because the fetus was female. The law on ‘Protecting Health of the Population’ states that abortion is possible until 12 weeks of pregnancy and under special social conditions abortions are allowed up to 22nd week. Most gender-selective abortions are registered as based on fetus’ defects. About 10% of pregnancies are aborted in the third trimester of pregnancy as medical specialists report.[3]

In the area of sexual and reproductive rights related to marriage the two main issues are forced marriages within extended families sometimes at early age and religious marriages. The issue of marriage within the same extended family has been raised by the government since 1995[4] and yet as many as 37% families as of 2006 continue to arrange marriages between cousins[5] (kindred marriages). Official marriage age is 17 for women and 18 for men. Religious marriages which are socially accepted and practiced only recently started to require official registration by the state.[6] Religious marriages performed earlier leave women without any legal claims in case of divorce, death of the spouse or child support. Traditionally there is also a custom of sighe which is a temporary marriage blessed by the religious authorities which can happen parallel to the officially registered marriage with a different woman[7].

Women are expected to function primarily within a family and single women are perceived as failure by the society after they passed the marriage age (21-23 years).

‘Family honor’ concept prevails in Azeri families which limits women’s mobility, puts them in vulnerable situation if they have sex before marriage or decide to live independently. Families limit their daughters’ access to education to protect ‘family honor’ through not allowing them to enter universities in other cities. Women who travel abroad alone or study abroad may lose the opportunity to get married because they are believed to have had sex outside of marriage when they were away from the family control.[8]

- Investigate the social reasons for gender selective abortion
- Conduct nation-wide educational campaign about gender roles and value of women and girls based
- Work with religious authorities to establish a procedure of registration of religious marriages

UPR report on Sexual and Reproductive Rights in Azerbaijan (via GenderStan)

[1] Azerbaijan National Statistics 2002 LINK quoted in Gender Assessment for USAID/Caucasus/Azerbaijan (2004) p. 14
[2] Human Development Report. Gender Attitudes in Azerbaijan: Trends and Challenges (2007) p. 50
[3] CEDAW Shadow Report (2005) p.17
[4] Gender Assessment Report (2004) p. 7
[5] CEDAW Shadow Report (2005) p.8
[6] Human Development Report 2007 p. 61
[7] Human Development Report 2007 p. 61
[8] Gender Assessment Report p. 7

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