In One Azerbaijan Village, 'Carrying Water Is Women's Work'
By Saadat Akifgizi,
CELEBILER, Azerbaijan -- In this small, dusty village in
central Azerbaijan, daily life for the local women begins at dawn and ends at
What happens in between, say several Celebiler women, is nonstop labor.
"First we go to the fields," says one woman dressed in a colorful housecoat.
"Then we come back and get our buckets and walk a long distance from here to get
water. Then we come home, and begin washing clothes by hand. It's torture for
"You can't think about resting," says another. "There's no water, no gas. This
is real rural life."
The women smile ruefully when asked if they have time for small luxuries like
relaxing or watching soap operas. Television, says one, is for people who have
nothing to do -- and finding such a woman anywhere here is impossible.
A woman washes clothes in Celebiler.
Division Of Labor
In Celebiler and other agriculture-based villages like it throughout Azerbaijan,
women maintain the household and raise children. But they are also expected to
perform as much physical labor -- and sometimes more -- than that of their
Many of the village men have left seeking work in Russia. Those who remain can
often be found sitting in groups, placidly drinking tea or playing dominoes. All
the while, they keep a watchful eye on the women, whose chores even include the
backbreaking task of toting water from a distant spring back to their homes.
When asked if it bothered them to see the women burdened with heavy buckets of
water, the men are adamant that tradition dictated it was the women who should
perform much of the physical labor. "Carrying water is women's work," insists
one man. "In our village, if a man carried water, it would be an embarrassment."
Some men admit they occasionally bring water themselves, but only
at night, after most of the village residents are asleep.
Many men in the village are away working, but some are there to watch the women
Wealth, But No Trickle-Down
Azerbaijan is one of the fastest-growing economies in the former Soviet Union,
fueled by the country's massive oil and gas resources. The country reportedly
holds more than $20 billion in currency reserves.
President Ilham Aliyev has pledged to use that wealth to diversify the economy
and improve infrastructure in places like Celebiler and the surrounding Barda
district, which -- remarkably for an energy-rich country -- has no water or gas
lines, and still burns wood for fuel.
Few schools remain in working order, adding child-care concerns to the women's
to-do lists. "It takes three days for us to do things that city residents can do
in an hour," one Celebiler resident sighs.
"We'd like to enroll our children in kindergartens, but there aren't any," says
another. "We could work more easily in this case."
The plight of Celebiler's female residents is played out in village after
village in rural Azerbaijan. Women nominally enjoy the same rights and
privileges as men. But gender discrimination is common, particularly in
agricultural regions where growing poverty and isolation have kept many women
shackled to traditional roles.
Even in the capital, Baku, only a handful of women have risen to positions of
influence. The most notable of them is the country's first lady, Mehriban
Aliyeva, a prominent lawmaker who is reputed to be preparing for a presidential
bid after the scheduled expiration of her husband's second term in 2013.
The couple's twenty-something daughters, Arzu and Leyla, themselves enjoy
with property and business holdings of more than $75 million.
But that world seems very distant from life in Celebiler, where women say their
workload is so overwhelming they have no time to get involved in local politics
and potentially change their lives for the better.
"Working around the house absorbs us so much that there's no time for anything
else," says village resident Shukufa Jabrailova. "Of course, we want to do some
other things -- let's say to participate in the municipal elections."
The problems of rural regions have not gone unnoticed by Azerbaijani activists.
Local NGOs have launched numerous programs in Celebiler and other villages aimed
at dealing with women's issues.
But Laman Babayeva of the Aran regional development organization says women have
shown little initiative when it comes to participating in local problem-solving,
and that many programs die out after just three or four months for lack of
Education is also an issue. It is not only that the number of working schools
are dwindling; in many instances, girls are giving up their studies at a young
age, opting to marry and work instead. Their parents, often busy themselves with
work, are rarely in a position to insist their children remain in school.
Jabrailova says the village used to provide a safety net for its students. Now,
she says, many children are left on their own.
There used to be a group system in schools," she says. "If the parents were too
busy to help children with their studies, those children could go to the group
for support. But this group system doesn't function anymore, and now illiteracy
Copyright (c) 2010 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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