Divorce – struggles, challenges and social stigma women face

Azərbaycan dilində

Summary

Divorce in Azerbaijan is still considered very controversial and not approved by many members of the society, especially older traditionally thinking generations and people living in rural areas. The article touches a gender sensitive topic of the position of divorced women in the society. Uluchay has conducted a research by conducting several interviews with divorced women as well as desk research, collecting statistics and data from different sources in order to gain a broader understanding of the issue.  What are the overall challenges women experience within and after the divorce process, what kind of protective legal mechanisms are there available and how well are women educated about their legal as well as their human rights. How does social stigma influence the whole process and what is a way forward to tackle this multidimensional problem. What concretely can be done today to change and transform current situation in order to create better conditions for divorced women in society today and in the future. It is a problem which needs to be given a lot of attention on the quest for tackling gender equality issues in the country.

Women in Azerbaijan are officially entitled to full political, economic and social participation, the reality however is slightly different due to deeply rooted patriarchal attitudes in the society, especially in rural areas. Family represents a very high value where a child is considered as one of the most important elements of the family, men are the breadwinners and main decisionmakers and women are most respected for their role of being a mother whereas supporting the family financially comes as a secondary role if necessary. There is also a problem of professions which are unofficially divided to male and female professions. Business sector, management, economics, construction and oil industry are mainly occupied by men whereas women are concentrated in education, healthcare and social services, recreation and entertainment which falls into the lowest monthly average pay rates. This kind of division creates a huge gender pay gap, undermines the importance of education and overall capability of women to enrol in various professions which are perceived to be men’s profession and therefor more demanding. These traditional roles manifest economic, social and psychological dependence of women on men.

Marriage and divorce

Creating a family is very important as mentioned before and parents make a great effort to find a future husband for their daughters. Arranged marriages are still highly present in the Azerbaijani society and in some cases girls in rural areas don’t have the right to oppose the candidate chosen by their parents. Often it happens that families lie about certain conditions and circumstances in their families or withhold some vital information prior to the marriage which can later result in unbearable living conditions for a woman, violating her human rights. Bad financial situation, unsuitable living conditions, big age difference, husband’s violent behaviour or the existence of alcohol or drug abuse to name a few.

Women find themselves in a very ungrateful position- torn between standing up for themselves and their rights or to continue suffering and maintaining good family reputation. Women often don’t have any outside support and even their parents try to encourage them to be patient and stay positive for things to get better.

According to demographic indicators provided by The State Statistical Committee of the Republic of Azerbaijan divorce rate has been growing in the last couple of years. Statistics show that there have been over 10 000 divorces in 2011 and the number has risen up to 14514 divorces in 2017 and the marriage rate on the other hand has declined since 2011 (with one exception in 2013) with a bit over 88000 marriages down to slightly less than 63000 in 2017. In the first 7 months of 2018, there have been 33009 marriages and 8537 divorces registered. Overall divorce rate is still very low (between 1.2 and 1.5 per 1000 people) compared to other countries. There is also quite a big difference between divorces in urban and rural areas where the number in urban area is twice to three times as big as in rural areas which could be the cause of several different factors such as better working conditions for women and awareness about rights of women, lower stigma around the divorce and better access to different services such as provision of legal and psychological aid.

Main reasons for divorce in Azerbaijan are domestic violence followed by infertility, drug addiction, cheating and financial problems and increased unemployment. Majority of divorces are requested by women.

“Living conditions were very bad, my husband had a bad attitude towards me, but my parents encouraged me to try and stay a little longer saying that things will get better. I was the only one who knew the reality in the house”

Domestic violence:

Domestic violence is highly present in Azerbaijani families and a leading reason for divorces but still considered as a taboo. Victims of domestic violence are often reluctant to report it to the police since violence against women has been normalised and even accepted by women. Shame and fear of impact on the family’s reputation and fear of not being believed and losing her children are caused by social stigma and inadequate education around women’s rights. Authorities and the police do not like to intervene as they consider domestic violence a private matter and something which should be dealt with and kept in the family and with that, they promote family unity, shame and stigma around this matter.

Access to legal system

Depending on the complexity of the case and the circumstances divorce is emotionally and psychologically very exhausting process for a woman. The process itself is well known in the country however there are still many challenges women can face during the process taking into consideration that finishing the divorce process is not the only desired outcome but also the right to a fair process which doesn’t violate and undermine the rights of a woman. This can often be the case since many women are not sufficiently educated about their rights.

According to the State Statistical Committee more than half of the families filing for a divorce in 2015 (6950 out of 12764) didn’t have any children.  Women without a child may experience discrimination in the divorce process by being mandated an administrative procedure which does not guarantee the rights of a woman to the same extent as judicial proceedings. Administrative procedure can lead to women without children being forced to a mutual consent which can result in violation of women’s rights regarding property rights and maintenance amounts.

“He had drug problems. I wanted to divorce him, but for the sake of our child I tried to stay married longer. I didn’t want my child to grow up without a father”

Divorces are not easily achieved even when requested due to domestic violence. Expensive legal services, lack of access to free legal aid and limited number of lawyers in rural areas are one of the main obstacles that women face when seeking legal aid. Lack of female representatives among police and law enforcement and judicial systems also creates a barrier for women seeking legal aid since it can lead to not being understood or even discouraged from the continuation of the process.

The family code of the Republic of Azerbaijan (Government of Azerbaijan 1999b. Article 84.1) states that spouses must support each other financially. Many cases occur where men refuse to pay alimony, or they pay it unfrequently. In this case the right to bring to court the party who has the necessary funds belongs to limited number of beneficiaries (disabled persons, spouse with a disabled child, wife during the period of pregnancy and for 3 years from the birth of their child). This clearly results in restriction of women’s rights and their access to justice. There shouldn’t be any restriction on who can appeal to the court in case of absence or irregular payment of support.

Challenges:

Women face many challenges during and after the divorce process. Particularly in rural areas, sense of belonging, fear of being exiled and the established social, psychological and financial dependence on men discourage women from even starting the divorce process. Lack of family support, social dishonour and strong pressures to keep families together make this first step even harder.

Most common challenges and problems woman face:

  • Husband doesn’t attend court processes
  • Irregular or no payments of alimony
  • Collecting the belongings back from ex husband
  • Financial instability which creates dependence usually from her parents
  • Lack of working experience creates a barrier in finding a new and decent job
  • Encountering in inappropriate job offers due to the status of a divorced woman
  • Difficulties engaging in a new relationship and creating new family especially when a woman already has children from previous marriage
  • Dealing with the society and social stigma around this matter
  • Depression

Social stigma:

Social stigma is highly present around the divorces in Azerbaijan. Women after divorce already face many difficulties when starting their new life and the society doesn’t make it any easier for them. Divorced women face many improper job offers, destructive rumours and difficulties in starting a new relationship. Men on the other hand have less problems creating a new family. Women are many times reluctant to go into public after the divorce. They lack emotional and psychological support in order to continue and establish their new life. Many times, women stay married longer due to the social stigma of divorced women. After the divorce husband and wife in most cases, especially in rural areas, don’t stay in good relations and the father often loses touch with his children, especially after he creates a new family. It is also perceived unusual and strange by the society if the father is still enrolled into his children’s lives after the divorce which creates another form of social pressure.

“After divorce I didn’t go out of the house. I didn’t feel comfortable in public due to social stigma around divorced women”

Way forward:

According to Bayramova (2017) there are no systematic and consistent efforts done towards societal transformation to address traditional gender roles and stereotypes limiting the personal, social, economic and political freedom of women in Azerbaijan. This consequently makes the integration process of divorced women back into society much harder.  Problems women are facing are caused by several factors connected to the patriarchal classification. It is important to find adequate approach to effectively deal with identified problems women face during and after the divorce, to ensure them fair divorce process and provide them services which will enable them efficient integration back into society and help them gain independence.

There is clearly a lack of supportive mechanisms available to women during and after their divorce process is finished. This problem should be tackled on many different levels, with prevention programs, awareness raising campaigns, direct programs available to women who are now facing challenges during their divorce process and in their life after the divorce. Special attention should be given to prevention of arranged marriages, fighting social stigma around divorces by raising awareness of the media,  reproducing of gender stereotypes in Azerbaijani educational system by revising school books and other teaching materials, fight against job division to male and female jobs in order to reduce a huge gender pay gap, encouraging more women entering the police and law enforcement and judicial system.

According to the national study “Barriers, remedies and good practices for women’s access to justice in Azerbaijan” (2017), statistics show that there are 63 (12%) female judges out of 524, 4 (6%) female court presidents out of 74 and 47 (4%) female prosecutors out of 1069.

Suggestions for concrete actions:

As mentioned above, this problem is multidimensional and has negative effects on several different aspects of life. Divorced women should be given support on different levels depending on the area of life which is creating a barrier for them to newly establish themselves after the divorce.

At the beginning of the divorce process many of them experience little to no support from their family and friends. They should be offered professional psychological support and counselling during and after the divorce process in order to avoid or decrease the possibility of depression, to empower themselves, find motivation and resources to continue their life and create their own personal plan towards financial independence.

“I would like to have a job, where I won’t quit the next day because of inappropriate offers”

Provision of different courses such as computer course, English and Russian language course, different vocational education trainings or trainings on establishment of their own business would help them on different levels. New skills would help them become more employable and competitive in the labour market. Acquiring new skills would also serve as a tool for empowerment and gaining self-confidence.

Series of awareness raising campaigns around gender equality, divorce and perception of women in the society would be a very important step in transformation of the minds in the society. Breaking stereotypes and stigma around this matter can’t happen over night and it is a long-term process however it can serve as another empowerment tool for divorced women to recognize their own value and power to independently continue their life without shame and regret regarding their decision.

References:

  • COE (2017), “Barriers, remedies and good practices for women’s access to justice in Azerbaijan”
  • Parvana Bayramova. (2017), “Barriers, remedies and good practices for women’s access to justice in Azerbaijan”, COE
  • UNDP/UNFPA (2015), “POPULATION SITUATION ANALYSIS: Beyond the Demographic Transition in Azerbaijan”, Baku
  • UNDP/SCFWCA (2007), “Azerbaijani Human Development Report. Gender attitudes in Azerbaijan. Trends and challenges”, Baku.
  • State Statistical Committee of the Republic of Azerbaijan
    https://www.stat.gov.az/menu/14/?lang=en (accessed on 12.10.2018)