Like many mothers across the world, I am excited and preparing for my daughter as she returns to school this month, after a busy but enjoyable summer holiday. It is a proud but bittersweet time of year for all parents, because we miss our children as they depart for long days and studious nights, but we also know that each day dedicated to learning and study will empower our children to become intelligent, knowledgeable adults; one day all too soon!
For me, this is an especially sentimental time, as I consider the opportunities that my daughter has before her, and how lucky we are to live in a society that makes education for all children such a high priority.
My country, Azerbaijan is a secular majority-Muslim democracy. Our government is one that also encourages and supports diverse religious identity and expression. In Azerbaijan, Muslim women, just the same as Jewish and Christian women, are offered an education and bounty of opportunity that is virtually unheard of in any other Muslim society, and is in many above and beyond what has progressed in many Western nations. It is also indistinguishable from what is offered and available to Azerbaijani men.
I reflect on this as I watch my young daughter prepare her supplies before the start of school, and the attention to organization and detail she applies to her education; something she cherishes. My daughter faces a world of limitless possibility, because she was born and raised in Azerbaijan, in a country that granted women the right to vote in as far as 1919 – an entire year earlier than the United States; and where today, over 50% of PhD candidates are women. When she first began attending school, years ago, I remember her pride and delight in learning that throughout the entire Russian Empire, which Azerbaijan was part of back then, the very first secular school for Muslim girls was opened in Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital, in 1901.
Like so many mothers, I wonder what my daughter will do with her life, and what great impact she will make on the world as she continues to grow. I like to tell her stories about other Azerbaijani women, to inspire her and remind her of the many choices she has before her. Like how as early as 1931, Leyla Mammadbeyova became the first Azerbaijani female aviator and the first female pilot in the Caucasus, Southern Europe and the Middle East, all the while raising six children and training thousands of paratroopers and pilots. She also became the first woman pilot to fly solo between Central Asia and Southern Europe, breaking records and barriers that many nations have yet to come close to even considering.
Perhaps my daughter wants to study politics, law or public policy, and I tell her about Azerbaijan’s First Lady, Mehriban Aliyeva, and her global humanitarian work as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador. I also remind her that before becoming First Lady, Mrs. Aliyeva became a successful medical doctor. I tell her also about the Honorable Tatiana Goldman, an Azerbaijan Supreme Court Justice, who is also Jewish, or Ganira Pashayeva and Sevinj Fataliyeva, both active members of the Azerbaijani Parliament, and many other women serving as deputy ministers, and those managing entire government agencies. We take pride knowing there are actually 21 women currently elected to Azerbaijan’s Parliament (that has 125 members altogether), including Bahar Muradova, the Deputy Speaker; and how this proportion of elected women is comparable to the United States Congress. I always tease my daughter that there is definitely room for 22. In case my daughter wants to serve her country one day, I tell her about many courageous women proudly serving in the Azerbaijani Armed Forces.
I feel confident that however she applies her education, it will be doing something that makes a positive difference for the world. In the meantime, I continue to share with her examples of her fellow countrywomen, and all they have achieved, and I make sure to encourage her to work hard and to cherish every moment of this opportunity, and to see it as a blessing. I make sure to remind her that our country, founded in the spirit and strength of harmonic diversity, is a country where girls and women are treated as equals to boys and men, and succeed as leaders in education and as professionals, across every sector of society.