Last Monday was Women's Day here in Azerbaijan and it brought up a lot of feelings, questions, and thoughts about the status of women in this country. I do not want to start a political discussion just merely to state how great the women are here, but yet how limited their lives can end up being. In America, women are actually able to make a significant amount of decisions about how their life will be and live independent lives. We make the choice to stay at home or when we will be married and to who. Going to college and then working or living alone are just what people do and so being here it is frustrating at times to realize that women just do not have the ability to make those decisions. It's not really the government more than tradition and culture. The highlight of the future for a lot of the young women I work with is their Toy (wedding), but there are some that have different goals yet may be forced to give those up for marriage. It's the thought that these brillant young women with great souls and questioning minds will have to give up their dreams or hopes at such young ages, like 23 or 24, that bothers me.
The family is the most important component to society here and I really do appreciate that. It's much different then how I was raised being far away from my extended family. The issue I see though is that young women and men are not able to really live independent lives even after marriage where they will live with the man's family. I do not have a complete understanding of why, but can speculate that it's due to economics, culture, and religion. Even the men do not have a wide variety of choices on professions or how to live differently then everyone else, but at least they have the power over making decisions when they are an adult and married. A lot of times women here will not work after marriage or they will work as teachers and then come home. Due to strict gender guidelines, there is no real appropriate place for women to gather socially. Women are not allowed to frequent any places with a majority of men so that means tea houses and internet clubs are off limit. Currently, I am writing a grant to buy computers and set a resource center specifically for women so they have access to the internet and computer courses. I hope this will help, but it's hard to make an impact.
So much here is based on the reputation of the woman or man. There are certain things that women can not do or they will be talked about badly and it would ruin their chances of being married. I get away with a lot just because I'm an American so I want to encourage these young women to change, but I am limited due to the fear of somehow negatively impacting how the women will be seen in the community. The issues here with women's independence really will only be changed through generations. I hope that the women I work with will give their daughters an opportunity to make more decisions becauseI fear it's too late for them. I will in my two years here see the young women I work with get married and I hope they will be happy, but I worry they may not be.