"A woman leader carries the responsibility not only for herself, but for every woman who will be appointed to a key position in the future. A woman should be a top professional and highly qualified, and sometimes even more determined and tougher than a man.” - Hijran Huseynova
iKNOW Politics: You are the Chairperson of the State Committee on Family, Women and Children Affairs of Azerbaijan. What are some issues that the State Committee has been addressing to empower and create new opportunities for women in Azerbaijan? How do you think your management style changed the committee’s work over the last couple of years?
As with many other policy decisions, the establishment of gender policy in Azerbaijan is closely connected to the name of our National Leader, Heydar Aliyev. It was Heydar Aliyev who signed a decree “On increasing women’s role in Azerbaijan” on January 14, 1998. This decree required relevant government institutions to prepare proposals for strengthening of social protection programs for women refugees and Internally Displaced Peoples (IDP); enhance legal and economic guarantees for women’s labor rights; and develop mutual relations between international women organizations, local women non-profit organizations, and state structures. Additionally, in 1998 the State Committee for Women’s Issues was established by the decree of the President Heydar Aliyev.
Furthermore, the President signed the decree “On implementation of Women policy in the Republic of Azerbaijan” on March 6, 2000, which aimed to protect women’s rights and to make relevant revisions in the national legislation to ensure equal rights between women and men, especially their equal participation in decision-making processes. I think the decision to establish the State Committee on Family, Women, and Children made by our President, Mr. Ilham Aliyev, has been extremely timely. Azerbaijan follows international standards on women issues while preserving its cultural norms such as strong family ties. As for the management style, I think any person uses his or her own background and experiences.
I don’t think that I have changed my style after assuming the position of the Chairperson in the State Committee. First of all, like any state official, I am trying to meet the requirements of the Government and legislation of Azerbaijan Republic. I am not designing some new style like in a fashion business. But at the same time, I am always a supporter of a creative management approach. It is my principle to encourage my staff to be proactive in everything. I am a very strict and demanding manager, and I always request all assignments to be done thoughtfully, carefully and by the deadline. I apply those requirements towards myself as well.
iKNOW Politics: You are the only woman politician in Azerbaijan holding a ministerial level position. Have you faced any challenges as a woman in this position and if yes, how did your background prepare you to meet these challenges?
As for the ministerial level position I agree. I am the only woman politician, but in Azerbaijan, in general, there are many women in different leadership positions. There are woman Members of Parliament, women Deputy Ministers, etc. We would like to increase the number of women in politics. The State Committee is of a big help in this task. I also would like to mention that the responsibility that women have is twice as high as men’s. A woman in a leadership position can not expect to be treated differently because she is a woman. A woman leader carries the responsibility not only for herself, but for every woman who will be appointed to a key position in the future.
A woman should be a top professional and highly qualified, and sometimes even more determined and tougher than a man. I have gone a long way, step by step, in my career and overcame many hardships because I developed a strong emotional protection. For example, I participated in a Parliamentary election campaign and won. But because of a dishonorable and unfair election campaign held by my opponents, the results of the polling station, where I ran as a candidate, were discharged. A lot of men were frustrated and could not cope with this, but I was strong enough to fight against it and continue my work. I consider this campaign as one more experience in my career that made me stronger and more professional in my work.
iKNOW Politics: You are an active member of Azerbaijan’s “Coalition 1325”. Has the Coalition been active in promoting refugee and IDP women in Azerbaijan in the peace-building processes? What has been your role in and contribution to the work of the Coalition?
Coalition 1325 was created within the UNO project. The aim of this coalition is to strengthen civil initiative and peaceful resolution of conflict situations. The name of the coalition takes after the UN Resolution 1325. In my opinion it is a very useful coalition and it helps to explain to people the advantages of peaceful resolution of conflict situations. Women always used to be supporters of peace-building processes, which is specifically relevant to refugees and IDP women who are in this status due to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. It is necessary to work with this group of women.
For instance, the government’s support to improve social, cultural and everyday life of women refugees and IDPs is very important. Due to the continuous work of state bodies with this vulnerable group of women, they can rehabilitate from the traumas of war, preserving their families and bringing up their children. These women suffered a lot during the conflict and they clearly understand and promote the advantage of a peaceful way for conflict resolution. In general, women are always the best messengers of peace.
iKNOW Politics: What do you think should be done to increase women’s participation in politics in the former Soviet Union region, particularly in Azerbaijan? Would you recommend any specific strategies and/or measures?
We could do nothing if the women do not apply any effort to change. It is impossible to work without getting any feedback. We completely support women entrepreneurship; we closely cooperate with the Ministry of Economic Development to involve more women in business. When a woman is financially independent, she becomes a more active member of society. For women, it is not enough just to be involved in something. They have to work harder and increase their professional level in what they do. During the establishment of the Committee, I hired young people, who worked in non-profit organizations and had gained their experiences there. They have learned their skills much better than others and we wanted to tap into these experiences.
From the start, we worked in cooperation with non-profit and international organizations. We also believe that working with the media is very important as it raises public awareness on the Committee’s work, which makes our efforts more effective. We are also in the process of capacity building for women. We have already established a Council of Smart Women within the Committee, which can become a model for many institutions in Azerbaijan. We also had a high number of women in decision making positions during the Soviet time who had gained rich experiences serving in the Communist Party’s Committee. We should not neglect these experiences as well.
We should also consider cultural norms and traditions of the Azerbaijani society, which thinks that a priority for women should be children and family, and only then their careers. It is hard to find a woman who can handle both of these things. Not every woman can manage properly her life and find a rational compromise between family and career. It was also hard for me to find such compromise, but I had a great support of my family and my husband. Despite my experiences as a doctor of political sciences, professor and chair of the Department of Diplomacy and Contemporary Integration Processes of the Baku State University, chair of the State Committee for Family, Women and Children Affairs, I am trying to fulfill with dignity my mission as a wife and a mother of two girls. My husband and I brought them up in the spirit of national family values and contemporary vision of women’s role in the society.
iKNOW Politics: Do you think that traditions and culture can be a barrier to women’s empowerment? If yes, what do you think should be done to eliminate gender stereotypes and cultural barriers?
As you know, there are many stereotypes which are different in our traditions. In our culture there is no such thing as a weak or oppressed woman. In reading Azerbaijani folklore and classic literature, and even the holy Koran and Mohammad’s teachings, we can see that women are depicted as having a strong personality. When Azeri women gained the right to vote in 1919, women in the majority of the countries in the West and the East still did not have that right. The past centuries confirmed obviously this truth, and it was especially in the 20th century when women enjoyed full rights and freedoms.
I think there are wrong stereotypes in our culture and we have a goal to recover the best traditions and to promote them in the society while destroying the existing stereotypes. According to the Constitution we have equal rights. But equality can’t only be on paper, can’t just be formal. Talking from the perspective of human rights, it does not matter if you are a man or a woman. Everyone has equal rights to education, healthcare, social services etc. And if anyone’s rights are violated, the state should help this person.
For this reason, we have developed a program to fight domestic violence against women and children. I would like to point out the example that every woman could follow – the example of our First lady, UNESCO and ISESCO Goodwill Ambassador, Member of Parliament, Mehriban Aliyeva, who serves her nation while preserving national traditions and strengthening family traditions. The efforts to eliminate stereotypes should start at pre-school and school levels, and should be continued in higher education institutions. In this regard, we have organized a number of round tables, produced a special TV program, and established a journal. At our events we cover issues that are very important for the society. People should understand that gender does not mean only women.
When protecting the rights of women, men are also considered. To change such attitudes is a long process which is not going to be worked out overnight. In general, a wide application of modern informational technologies is important in solving of gender-related problems. Thus, the creation of contemporary informational networks for women and children and hotlines on the most important issues can bring really good results. Here we rely on positive foreign experiences, and hope to succeed and reach progress at a national level.
iKNOW Politics: We live in a time when technological innovations affect people around the world, provide instant access to information, and create incredible opportunities for networking among like-minded individuals and organizations. How can we ensure that women make the best use of and benefit from available technologies? Do you think that being part of a network such as iKNOW Politics can help women to have access to critical information and resources for advancing in politics?
Women politicians often hold forums in different parts of the world, and this year Azerbaijan is hosting a forum initiated by the First Lady, Mehriban Aliyeva. It will be an international forum on “Expanding the role of women in a cross-cultural dialogue”. This is one more opportunity to gather scholars and politicians from around the world to discuss actual problems. The more we meet to communicate and share our points of view, the more opportunities to change, the more chances we have to improve the situation. I can assure you that the voice of women in the resolution of international problems resonates more and more convincingly.
I witnessed it while making speeches at international conferences, including UN events. Every speech enables us to speak about the resolution of Nagorno-Karabakh problem, the aggression of neighboring Armenia, and the possibility to strengthen international solidarity of women to prevent escalation of the conflict.
iKNOW Politics: What piece of advice would you share with iKNOW Politics members, particularly women candidates and officials, as they progress in their political careers?
I would suggest women the following: 1. Be highly professional; 2. Do not count on someone being easy on you; 3. Always find a rational compromise both in relation to your staff and yourself; 4. Be open to innovations, be creative and do not be afraid to learn; 5. Do not be a workaholic, but rather be hard-working while preserving your womanhood.