Response stories

Breaking down walls of silence: the struggle for sex workers’ rights in Azerbaijan

For the past five years, women facing HIV, sex workers, and those who use drugs in Azerbaijan have been marginalized in the process of preparing and submitting shadow reports to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). In the concluding observations on Azerbaijan’s sixth periodic report (2022), CEDAW expressed concern, pointing out that the state relies on non-governmental organizations to provide shelter. The Committee recommended the abolition of penalties against women for prostitution, criminalization of sexual exploitation, and the provision of support programs for those who wish to leave sex work.

Zeinab’s (name changed) story is just one of many such cases. Married at seventeen, she faced difficulties when her husband left for Russia, leaving her alone with a child and no means of livelihood. Attempts to get support from her parents proved futile, and Zeinab was forced to turn to sex work. When her landlord found out about her activities, he demanded that she move out.

It was at this point that REActors intervened after hearing about the situation from other sex workers. Working with the NGO Clean World, they organized a shelter for Zeinab and her child, providing not only shelter and food but also free services for victims of domestic and sexual violence. A lawyer was engaged to resolve the eviction issue. Despite the lack of a lease, sanctions against the landlord were not possible.

Zeinab also began vocational training aimed at her eventual reintegration into society. The shelter provided her with the opportunity to acquire the skills needed to live independently. Despite her difficulties, she remains hopeful for a brighter future.

The challenges facing women in Azerbaijan are often related to early marriage, limited access to education, and high unemployment. Involvement in sex work becomes a frequent response to these factors. It is therefore important to continue to fight for women’s rights and provide support and alternatives for those who want to change their lives. The intervention of NGOs and REActors undoubtedly plays a key role in this process.

Also read:

Protecting the rights of transgender women in Tajikistan

Incident in Moldova with disclosure of medical information

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