Azerbaijani Women Watch #IAmNotAfraidToSpeak from the Sidelines

Sexual violence. Wikimedia image.

Sexual violence. Wikimedia image.

As an Azerbaijani woman it has been fascinating to follow the story of #яНебоюсьСказать (#IAmNotAfraidToSpeak) started by Ukrainian activist Anastasiya Melnychenko in order to discuss incidents of sexual, physical and psychological violence against women.

Whether in Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, Belarus or Russia, women are not only constantly subject to sexual, physical and psychological harassment, but also seen as the instigators of these attacks on themselves.

A pervasive mentality argues that “she brought it upon herself” and/or “it is her fault”.

This is because rape, violence and harassment are so stigmatised in our cultures, victims often remain silent, attempting to forget their experience, never to discuss it again.

This perhaps applies to conservative Azerbaijan more than most of the other countries in the former Soviet Union.

The persistent “it's women’s fault” mentality explains the behaviour of Azerbaijani female netizens on Facebook, who have largely remained silent about their stories in contrast to the sudden outpour of reactions on the part of Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian users.

Like any Azerbaijani woman, this author has been harassed on many occasions.

Many of us have experienced harassment on Baku's busy metros and buses while commuting to work.

It is one of the few places men can find “the space” and the “right opportunity” to touch an ass or rub up against a female body, nearly always from the back, because harassment is an act of cowardice.

Digging through this trove of memories is painful and the silence of #demeyeqorxmuram — what #IAmNotAfraidToSpeak would be in Azeri — tells its own story.

The last time Azerbaijani netizens responded en masse to violence against a woman was the case of Aytac Babayeva (#AytacBabayeva), a recent high school graduate who was stabbed eight times by her former boyfriend in a fit of jealousy.


Just a few months before Aytac’s murder, 20-year-old Ozgecan Aslan was raped and then brutally murdered in Turkey.

But in the event of Aytac’s murder, her case was shared by more Turkish users than Azerbaijani users.

According to a BBC Azeri service story of the time, the number of women killed as a result of domestic violence in 2014 in Azerbaijan reached 721.

Real numbers may be even higher.

Discussion of #IAmNotAfraidToSpeak in Azeri language never really got off the ground, although, ironically, the few posts that did address the topic were widely shared:

Davud Mamedov: Zorakılığa məruz qalmış qadınlar barədə “günah özündədir, gecə vaxtı nə azarı var idi küçədə” deyənlərdən həmişə soruşmaq istəyirəm ki, bəs sizin heyvan ola-ola nə azarınız var insanlar arasında? Soruşmuram amma. Heyvanları durduğu yerdə niyə təhqir edim ki.

Davud Mamedov: I always want to ask those who say, “it is her fault, what the hell was she doing at that hour on her own on a street” about women who have been victims of violence, “what the hell are you doing being the animal you are, among human beings?” But I never ask this question. Because I don’t want to belittle animals.

There are stories written in Azerbaijani […] It is just there are not many. There would be stories if someone starts a hashtag in Azerbaijani language. I do not believe there is one woman who has not faced harassment or violence. Not just verbal or physical but there are those who rape you with their gaze. It is a very heavy topic. Many of the men who put themselves in women’s shoes won’t understand this.

One day, perhaps, Azerbaijani women will join in regional calls for mutual respect and freedom from harassment. In the meantime, rides on Baku public transport will still be hell.

See also: #IAmNotAfraidToSayIt: Ukrainian Social Media Users Break the Silence on Sexual Violence and Women Struggle Against Violence in Kyrgyz Society, But How Many Men Will Help Them? 

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