This world has never been a simple place for women. For centuries we have been held back, across the globe, and limited in the most basic and fundamental areas of life. Yet this past century has seen a dramatic, life-altering shift for women around the globe. Despite significant challenges, many women today enjoy a relatively greater degree of liberty, much of which is protected by laws and constitutions and supported by a major shift in attitude and ideology regarding the worth and capabilities of women.
In Azerbaijan, we started a bit early on the trend of women’s liberation. In fact, just this past July 21, 2019, we celebrated 100 years of women’s equality in Azerbaijan. Our nation’s shift to full and equal rights for women began long before the advent of suffrage, but it was codified on July 21, 1919 when all Azerbaijani women, upon the age of 20, were granted the right to vote and run for election for public office.
This law was passed by the Parliament of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. When this Republic was proclaimed in 1918, becoming the first ever secular democracy among all Muslim nations, it announced the equality of all citizens of Azerbaijan regardless of gender, race, ethnicity or religion. But in July 1919 the law concretized the full suffrage for women, making Azerbaijan a champion of women’s rights.
Namely, Azerbaijan achieved this historic milestone many years ahead of most of the nations of the world, and even before the United States granted women the right to vote (1920). This is especially unique considering that Azerbaijan is a majority-Muslim country, and obviously acheived this far before any other Muslim nation in the world. Azerbaijan’s historic and celebrated tendency toward progress and freedom has been a critical component in enabling our early embrace of women’s rights, and we see examples of this broader quality in other unique decisions Azerbaijan has made. Most notable is Azerbaijan’s thousands of years of embracing and protecting Jewish communities, whether native to Azerbaijan or for the many that fled to our majority-Muslim nation at times of grave persecutions and dangers across Europe, the Middle East and most surrounding areas. We have always thrived on innovation, and this quality is most especially impactful and beautiful when it comes to our way of relating to other people. Jews, Christians, Baha’is and all others that peacefully live in our country, as equal citizens with all rights; foreign residents, students, those who travel for business, tourism, or visitors of any kind – all are welcome in Azerbaijan.
Visitors to our capital city of Baku often visit our famous Statue of a Liberated Woman, an enormous work of art, depicting a beautiful, proud and powerful woman looking forward, as she removes her veil. This statue epitomizes our approach to women.
Conditions for women are improving, so are the country’s international rankings. For instance, in World Economic Forum’s 2018 Global Gender Gap Index, in the category of economic participation and opportunity, Azerbaijan leaves behind not only its immediate neighbors Armenia and Georgia, but also many European Union members such as Austria, France, UK, Belgium, Netherlands, Spain, Greece, Poland and others. In the Index’s category of educational attainment for women, Azerbaijan beats the majority of developed nations, including the United States.
As a mother to a young adult, I see my daughter stepping out into a world of her own, and yet one with a shared system of values that I know will empower and protect her as she lives her life. Together, we celebrate this milestone of women’s liberty, 100 years of suffrage in Azerbaijan, and we realize the many bold and brilliant women of Azerbaijan that are leading today and also those that have come before our time, breaking down barriers. Our family celebrates the anniversary of women’s suffrage in Azerbaijan every year, and we discuss the growing list of examples where women have shaped our history, in politics, art, medicine, poetry; in every facet of life. We have amazing female leaders such as the First Vice President Mehriban Aliyeva, 21 female members of our Parliament, Supreme Court Justices, including Tatyana Goldman, who is Jewish, and others to recognize.
My prayers are that our values and blessings that have brought us to this 100 year anniversary should spread to those regions nearby and abroad, where women and others are still held back and even harmed, and it is my greatest prayer, that the much larger and unstoppable commitment to tolerance and acceptance for all people, should overtake the entire world.