On 6 March 2013 UNO Baku – the Department of Public Information (UN DPI) team braved the cold and joined hands with the women of the Azerbaijani Tartar region, before a promising cooperative session devoted to the upcoming International Women's Day under the theme: “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women.”
The event was a continuation of a series of ‘advocacy and action’ information sessions that the UN DPI team in Azerbaijan has been conducting to promote the wider “UNiTE to End Violence against Women” campaign launched in 2008 by the UN Secretary-General. It is “based on the simple but powerful premise that all women and girls have a fundamental human right to live free of violence,” says Ban Ki-moon in his message for the 2013 Women’s Day celebration.
Collaborating with the national NGO - International Eurasia Press Fund (IEPF), the UN DPI Representative with her small team traveled 330 km out of the capital to meet with women of the Tartar, which is the second most infamous place in Azerbaijan for registered domestic violence cases. The Head Inspector of prophylactic work with the juvenile working group at Tartar Police Department, Ruslan Allahverdiyev, raised this alarming statistic at the session, thanking the UN for pushing this issue into the spotlight.
Violence against women continues to spiral worldwide, but the UN will never stop denouncing this social ill, was the overall message of the presentation of the DPI team.
“We need a wider awareness campaign in our region, and not only to talk, but to take action and work on prevention since we still do not have a real sequence of actions – what should be done to help those who run from the place where they are victimized,” says Allahverdiyev. “We know that psychologically, the scars run even deeper, but most women stay in the abusive relationship or environment fearing that they will not be able to support themselves once when they confront their abuser(s).”
Tartar is not an easy place to live. According to government statistics, more than 2,600 refugees and around 15,000 internally displaced persons are living in the district that is often in the news headlining frequent ceasefire breaches due to the heavy military presence that comes with its proximity to the Azerbaijani-Armenian cease-fire line.
Women and children, as everywhere in postwar zones, are among the most affected, says MD Elman Hasanov, deputy chief doctor at the Central Clinic of Tartar. However, the conditions of living should not be an excuse for “the rising number of domestic violence cases”, Hasanov continued. “Very often, the abuse is overlooked, excused, or denied and this is especially true when the mistreatment is not brutally physical.” He also expressed his gratitude to the UN DPI team for shining light on this important issue and promised to collaborate in future campaigns. “We should not let down our women,” he added.
“Women do not get half the media's attention, or an equal voice in expression,” says Svetlana Ezizova, a local journalist from “Yeni Terter” newspaper. “We are truly thankful to the UN team for highlighting these important issues. It is not an easy task to have women to talk about happenings within the family or how they maintain their morale and individuality in the face of demanding circumstances.”
The UN team suggested that it is very important to educate women and the public that violence against women is not justified under any situation and that they should always speak out and actively seek help from relevant sources to protect themselves from any kind of violence.
“Most times the main reason for women to put up with the domestic violence is social pressure and stereotypes and we can avoid this only by educating and investing in women and girls,” said Zulfiyya Abdullayeva, deputy principal of Tartar School #6.
For Laman Huseynli, a young volunteer of IEPF Vocational Centre, the only way to uproot the violence against women and girls is to build new generations of young people who believe in the right to a life free of violence. “Our mothers are those who are zealous guardians of the male dominance and they will always find an explanation why our brothers are right, even if they openly abuse their wives or sisters.”
After a vibrant discussion that lasted around two hours, Hejer Askerova, a coordinator of the Vocational Centre expressed her gratitude to the United Nations and to the UN DPI team in particular for the session.
“To me, these UN organized sessions are always great encouragement and we hope to inspire young people to take leadership on ending violence against women and girls.”
Envera Selimovic, UN DPI Representative in Azerbaijan, who was warmly greeted by the women that she met last November in the ‘16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence’ campaign, says that she was happy coming back. For Selimovic there is no doubt that “we all should join hands to encourage women to stand up for their rights, but we should also help women in building a safe alternative for themselves, once they break the silence’.”
“Violence against women remains a challenge because it is based on social constructs that condone the behavior. It certainly takes courage to say “No” but it will be far easier for many women should they have an alternative option,” said Selimovic.
“So, there is a task for all of us, starting from building state support and securing resources for preventing and ending all forms of violence against women and girls. We all should step in and help thousands of ordinary women to make an extraordinary move – jump with a safety net built for those who dared to say NO.”