It's Time for Women's Rights in South Caucasus

Azerbaijan’s pardoning of its most celebrated journalist behind bars and Armenia’s release of all of its jailed oppositions is good news. But both ex-Soviet countries have a terrible record of women’s rights, and things seem to be getting worse.

Zaruhi Petrosian, a victim of domestic violence in Armenia

Armenia, for one, is the only country in the South Caucasus (which is made up of Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia) without legislation on domestic violence. An ongoing trial of a man who murdered his wife is still being dragged while the woman’s mother-in-law, reportedly also involved in the killing, is free.

In November 2008, Amnesty International issued a report on domestic abuse in Armenia stating that more than a quarter of women in Armenia have faced physical violence at the hands of husbands or other family members. Many of these women have little choice but to remain in abusive situations as reporting violence is strongly stigmatized in Armenian society.

Armenia remains a hub and a source of human trafficking, and few seem to care. In 2007, to attract attention on the issue, I sarcastically wrote about a law that Armenia (I claimed) had passed to fight human trafficking. Some took it seriously but Armenia’s parliament – my target – didn’t even bother commenting.

While Azerbaijan recently passed legislation on domestic violence, it has girls as young as 12 wed in arranged marriages, some to become victims of human trafficking. In the words of a new report by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty:

Trafficking is on the rise in Azerbaijan, an oil-rich country with a prosperous elite but where the majority of the population remain mired in poverty. In a 2010 report, the U.S. State Department described Azerbaijan as an active source country for trafficking, with many local children and women being sold into sex slavery in the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Russia, and Iran.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have shown some courage in their recent release of jailed critics. Now it’s time to work for women’s rights. Armenia must pass legislation on domestic violence and fight human trafficking. Azerbaijan must apply its existing laws and not allow marriages of children.

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