“Thirty years ago, before I was even born, my mum started documenting the situation of political prisoners in Azerbaijan. She challenged the government on their poor human rights record and spoke publicly about government oppression. My mum always said she wanted to make her country a better place. Activism is her life’s work, and now she is behind bars because of it. There is such irony in the whole situation—my mother used to protect political prisoners, and now she is one herself.” – Dinara Yunus, daughter of Leyla Yunus
Azerbaijan’s education ministry has banned schoolgirls from wearing headscarves to class, causing outrage among the more devout in this Muslim-majority country. On December 10, a day after Education Minister Misir Mardanov announced that headscarves must not be worn with school uniform, hundreds of parents and children staged a protest near the ministry.
When Aynur Mammadova, who is now a prostitute working the bars of Baku, was 16, she thought she had a chance of escaping a childhood of poverty in southern Azerbaijan for a better life. She met an Iranian called Javad who asked her to marry her, and her parents, struggling to support her and her three sisters and two brothers, were happy to agree to the match. The couple went through the Muslim wedding rite, and that was enough for her family even though they did not register the marriage with the civil authorities. “We celebrated our marriage in Lenkoran and lived together for a week,” Mammadova recalled. “Then Javad said he was taking me on honeymoon to the United Arab Emirates. I said goodbye to my parents, and we set off. But when we got to Dubai, he took me to a strange place, which turned out to be a criminal hang-out. I never saw my husband again.”
Feminist concern about the violation of women’s rights by male clerics in Muslim countries is slowly producing a response from some states. At the same time, rights activists are increasingly reporting examples of clerics who are standing up for women’s rights. This isn’t about the progressive male and female scholars that are increasingly visible in the Muslim world, nor about the occasional female imam; it’s about male preachers on the streets and in the villages.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, a United Nations monitoring body composed of independent experts, has called on the Government of Azerbaijan to adopt measures to end serious discrimination and violence against women.