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From Beijing 1995 to Baku 2015, Women’s Rights Are Human Rights | Commentary

By Sevinj Fataliyeva BAKU, AZERBAIJAN — When Hillary Rodham Clinton recently repeated her world-famous declaration at the Women in the World Summit in New York, “women’s rights are human rights,” you could almost hear the cheers from as far away as Azerbaijan.  

The former secretary of State and senator’s remarks resonated with me, a female member of the Parliament of Azerbaijan, a country at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and the Middle East. I felt like standing up and cheering — as did many other Azerbaijani women.  

I hope Clinton’s then-colleagues in the State Department and in Congress — particularly women — were also paying close attention to her reiteration of her personal doctrine, which she first declared 20 years ago at the United Nations Fourth World Conference in Beijing.  

As the State Department prepares to release its annual report on human rights and as Congress continues to debate U.S. alliances around the globe, policymakers should carefully consider the freedoms and opportunities that countries provide for half of their populations — their women and girls.  

Judged by this standard, Azerbaijan should be singled out for commendation, not the condemnation that all-too-often results from the internationally coordinated campaign against our country.  

By playing an active role in governmental, economic and educational institutions,
Azerbaijani women are proving a force for moderation and modernization in a turbulent and traditionalist region of the world.  

A majority Muslim nation with a secular government, Azerbaijan extended the right to vote to women in 1919, shortly before the United States. It was the first predominantly Islamic society ever to enfranchise women.  

Our legal system guarantees equal rights for women and men, with women holding growing numbers of positions in national and local governments.  

With expanding educational achievements, women’s share of public offices will inevitably increase. For instance, in 2010, while serving as chairwoman of the department of English Philology (language studies) at Baku Slavic University, I was encouraged to run for Parliament.  

Since then, I have been selected as deputy chairwoman of our Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, as well as head of the International Relations department of the governing party.  

Visiting the United States, I have been greeted with goodwill and misconceptions. I tell my American friends the majority of Azerbaijani women work outside the home.  

Comprising about half of the economically active population in Azerbaijan, women constitute 67.9 percent of all employees in education, 70.7 percent in health and social work, 76.2 percent in information and communications, 37.3 percent in finance and insurance, 47.2 percent in real estate, 64.1 percent in professional, scientific and technical fields, and 15.4 percent in public administration and defense.  

Meanwhile, women comprise 50.8 percent of the students in major PhD programs, including 45.3 percent in education, 63.9 percent in chemistry, 54.7 percent in medicine, 72.2 percent in biology, 50 percent in psychology, 54.3 percent in physics and mathematics, 59.1 percent in architecture, 39.1 percent in law and 35.8 percent in economics.  

As Azerbaijani women achieve greater educational credentials, they will assume an ever-larger share of professional positions. They will also have the opportunity to showcase their athletic abilities this June when the first-ever European Games are held in Baku.  

With women playing leading roles, Azerbaijan is promoting peaceful progress on the international stage.  

Two decades ago, Azerbaijan signed the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). In 2000, in a historic decision for a Muslim society, Azerbaijan agreed to CEDAW’s “optional protocol,” recognizing that an international body can consider complaints about alleged discrimination against women in our country.  

With roundtable discussions in Parliament, educational efforts by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and conferences with the Council of Europe, Azerbaijan is combating sexual violence against children. We are arranging trainings for psychologists in schools, holding meetings for parents and children, broadcasting public service announcements and exploring threats to children in cyberspace.  

Whether they are members of the U.S. Congress or the Azerbaijani Parliament, women want a better world for their children. With women’s active involvement, Azerbaijan can play an important part in resolving international conflicts. Instead of giving into pressures to treat Azerbaijan as a pariah, the United States should look to our country as a partner in a part of the world where there are too few forces for peace and progress.  

Sevinj Fataliyeva is the deputy chair of the foreign affairs and interparliamentary relations committee of the Parliament of Azerbaijan and chief of the international relations committee of the New Azerbaijan Party.

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