Of course, this model has its advantages, as it allows concentrating resources and achieving the set goal. However, in a modern society that has come a long way and made some progress, in a society oriented towards democratic values and a more flexible gender policy, the model of patriarchal society keeps failing.
When it comes to family, patriarchal traditions are firmly enshrined in the Shariah, in the domestic tyranny. Algerian author Leïla Marouane has a short story called “My Legal Guardian” (“Mon tuteur légal”). Its protagonist, a young woman, narrates in the first person the story of a brother and a sister, who grew up together after the death of their parents and supported each other in everything, turning into strangers, almost enemies. The metamorphosis occurs after the brother becomes the sister’s guardian, as the Muslim traditions require. A grown-up, independent young woman who earns her living by teaching finds herself completely at the mercy of her brother for the sole reason that he is a man, the head of the family. She legally cannot take a single step without his permission. The situation is absurd and, I think, very often tragic.
Muslim countries are not the only ones guilty of neglecting women. The West, which nowadays declares complete gender equality, followed the same path as the Muslims. Azerbaijani women received the right to vote in 1918 with the establishment of the first Democratic Republic. French women received this right only in 1944. Of course, it was the 1917 decree on the right of women in Russia to vote that was an example for Azerbaijan and other republics, which later became part of the Soviet Union.
Unlike in the West, the oppression of women is still the norm in many Muslim countries. The situation was the same in Christian countries, at a time when religion was one of the branches of government in the state. Only the separation of religion from the state (implemented by Lenin in Russia, by Ataturk in Turkey) put an end, at least in name, to women’s dependence on men.
Here is another paradox. World religions, as a rule, gives precedence to the man. But Zoroastrianism, the very first monotheistic religion, which appeared around the 1st millennium BCE in Iran, does not adhere to this principle. Zoroastrians worship one God, called Ahura Mazda. This religion recognizes the equality of men and women, and denies any form of subjugation—first and foremost, slavery. The cult is based on 7 key principles, very reminiscent of the principles of a democratic society. Prophet Zarathustra, or Zardusht, is a popular figure not only in the East, but also in the West—think Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, even if Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, the singer of the “superman”, is far from the prophet Zardusht, the founder of Zoroastrianism.
Complete dependence, almost voluntary slavery, can be explained and, to some extent, justified by woman’s complete financial dependence on man. Note the paradox of today. One of the reasons young women strive to look like models, resorting to the assistance of modern aesthetic medicine, is to get better chance at marrying a rich man. The problem is that once they have achieved this dream of a lifetime and become the lawfully wedded wife of an oligarch, they often fall into complete dependence on a man who is satisfied with himself and with his life. It’s another matter that sometimes women are happy to live in this slavery for a number of reasons. It is difficult to understand these women, especially since in our day and age they can realize their potential in many fields of activity. They have opportunities that their grandmothers and great-grandmothers could not even dream of.
The long-standing practice of this pattern of behavior has led to the opinions and potential talents of half of humanity being ignored. Only now that we observe a surge in the activity of the oppressed all over the world—be it black people, or ethnic minorities, or women—the potential of these people is beginning to unfold. It uncoils like a compressed spring, lightning-fast, sometimes with a deafening effect. It seems that women, in particular, are making up for the lost opportunities, occasionally overdoing it, too, as men once did. Progress is evident. In our case, in our republic, women are quite active in big cities—something we can hardly say about the situation of women in less developed parts of the country. Just the other day we heard about an 11-year-old girl getting engaged to a 15-year-old boy in an Azerbaijani family in the Georgian countryside. Engaged, not married, but still, parents sealing children’s fate like this in a secular country is not the best way to take care of their future. Let me tell you about a funny, but also dramatic, incident. A friend of mine who had moved to Canada a long time ago and made a successful career there shared this story with me. She came to visit her brother in Baku, at the same time as a relative from the countryside came to see him with his wife in tow. My friend, who had not seen her hometown in a long time, preferred not to waste a minute, walking around as much as possible, taking it all in, stocking up on impressions. The relative from the countryside, however, wanted to spend more time at the dinner table in the company of the woman who was so unlike the women he was used to. When the Canadian got tired of all the food and all the endless talk about our great traditions, she decided to use shock therapy. She showed up to the next get-together wearing short shorts. The tactic proved to be even more effective than she had expected. Concerned that the pernicious influence of the West might corrupt his innocent spouse, the man hastily retreated, taking the wife with him. They left the following morning.
You might find this ridiculous. Short, big deal! But this is not about the shorts—this is about the husband making every single decision, from where to live, how to raise children, what kind of people to socialize with, where and how to spend money or holidays. The wife cannot have an opinion of her own. She is a reflection of the husband. Both suffer from it. The man carries the great burden of responsibility and the obligation to make money—the more, the better, if for no other reason than because it’s mostly how the wife’s obedience is bought. The woman develops a temper deformed by constant dependence. She is secretive, rather hypocritical and extremely selfish. Of course, I am exaggerating, but this is the trend. As the submissive wife gets older, she at some point becomes a “qaynana” (mother-in-law—Ed.). The image of the Azerbaijani qaynana has been advertised beyond measure. There are plenty of anecdotes, irony and even sarcasm when it comes to this colorful image. There is a certain amount of truth in it. After years of rigorous service to the family under the command of her husband and, most importantly, her oppressive mother-in-law, the housewife eventually mirrors the latter, turning into an authoritarian matron who does not tolerate opposition. “Tyranny breeds tyranny.” Breaking free, women, like any oppressed group of society, often begin to act like tyrants. They know no other pattern of behavior beyond the binary “executioner—victim” model. If you are no longer the victim, then, by definition, you become the executioner.
More and more women all over the world take their rightful places in public administration, art, literature, politics. They come out of the shadow. Angela Merkel is one of the most successful politicians who managed to propel Germany to the leadership in Europe. I won’t give more examples, as they are obvious. Wendy Morton, the UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for European Neighbourhood and the Americas, said during her visit to Azerbaijan, referring to the Karabakh conflict, “Women have an important part to play in building strong and long lasting peace. When women are at the negotiating table, the peace agreement is more likely to be implemented and more likely to last.” And she did not forget to mention the problem inherent in all developing countries either: domestic violence, the hell behind closed doors that is almost never submitted to public scrutiny. “The UK is a global advocate for women and girls’ rights and gender equality, and we particularly encourage Azerbaijan to sign the Istanbul Convention which will protect women against domestic violence,” Morton summed up. We cannot but agree with the British minister: women deserve attention, respect and love from the other half of humanity.