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Azerbaijani Activists Raise Alarm About Domestic Violence


A woman holding a child in Baku, Azerbaijan. (Ulviyya Guliyeva/VOA)

Fatima Jannatova, who asked that her real name be withheld, is a 22-year-old victim of domestic violence in Azerbaijan. She shared her harrowing experience with VOA, which, she says, has left her physically and psychologically traumatized.

“I am having serious problems with my health,” Jannatova told VOA.

“Despite having received treatment, I am still carrying the consequences of the violence.”

According to Jannatova, abuse at the hands of her husband and mother-in-law compelled her to turn to law enforcement agencies. However, after facing pressure from her husband’s family, she withdrew her complaint.

“I forgave him, reasoning that he was the father of my children. However, the man did not change. I have been very afraid for myself and my children,” Jannatova said, adding that she has now filed for divorce.

“He took away the significant amount of money and jewelry bequeathed to me by my father, but if I demand anything back, he might perhaps murder me.”

Jannatova is among many Azeri women who become victims of domestic abuse.

According to the State Statistical Committee of Azerbaijan, 1,260 criminal instances of domestic abuse were documented nationwide in 2020. Activists for women's rights believe the true figure is much higher.

Vafa Rustam, women's rights activist in Baku, Azerbaijan. ( Parvana Bayramova/VOA)
Vafa Rustam, women's rights activist in Baku, Azerbaijan. ( Parvana Bayramova/VOA)

Vafa Rustam has been a human rights activist in Azerbaijan for over a decade. The climate of impunity for perpetrators, according to her, is the primary source of domestic violence in the country.

“Domestic violence should be registered in the criminal code as an aggravating factor,” she told VOA’s Azeri Service. “If a person is assaulted in domestic circumstances, the penalty should be more severe.”

According to Rustam, Azerbaijan also lacks enough shelters for victims of abuse. Most shelters are full, preventing more women from finding safety from their abusive spouses.

Azerbaijani authorities claim that the rate of violence against women is on the decline, citing a 3.7% drop in instances from 2019-20.

The State Committee for Family, Women, and Children Affairs told VOA about steps made in response to the presidential decree issued in September 2020, which established a three-year plan to combat domestic abuse.

The establishment of a hotline and a group to monitor and assess progress in the battle against domestic abuse are among the steps adopted.

Yet Azerbaijan has not signed the Istanbul Convention, a landmark treaty of the Council of Europe that aims to create "a legal framework at [the] pan-European level to protect women against all forms of violence, and to prevent, prosecute, and eliminate violence against women and domestic violence."

Azerbaijani women's rights activists threw red paint on the door of the local police station in protest to the authorities' inaction in response to complaints about domestic violence, Baku, Azerbaijan, Aug. 4, 2021. (Ulviyya Guliyeva/VOA)
Azerbaijani women's rights activists threw red paint on the door of the local police station in protest to the authorities' inaction in response to complaints about domestic violence, Baku, Azerbaijan, Aug. 4, 2021. (Ulviyya Guliyeva/VOA)

One of the most serious issues, according to lawyer Zibeyda Sadigova, is the difficulty in getting restraining orders for battered spouses in a timely manner.

“Acquisition of restraining orders must be attainable. The orders must be taken from the executive institutions and handed to the police,” Sadigova says.

She also mentions the additional difficulties that women who opt to leave violent marriages face due to a lack of income.

“The women, who have been victims of domestic violence, are facing serious financial hardships,” Sadigova says, emphasizing the necessity for a fund to assist women in their transition to a life free of abuse.

This story originated in VOA’s Azerbaijan Service.

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