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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Response stories

Caring for people living with HIV in Azerbaijan: how REActors help to overcome difficulties with residence registration

Recently, REActors in Azerbaijan have been facing a growing problem of integrating people living with HIV (PLHIV) into society. In more than 100 registered cases, problems have arisen either with personal documents or with official registration. Some of them had just been released from prison, some found themselves because their families had left them alone, and some had lost their documents. And the lack of documents limits access to social security services and benefits. 

However, despite the difficulties faced by members of vulnerable groups, national paralegals act as mediators to help resolve such problems. One example of such support was the case of Zaur (name changed), a member of the PLHIV community, who faced serious difficulties due to the lack of a propiska. In Azerbaijan, as in many other countries, this is an important prerequisite for obtaining government services such as a new passport, bank card, or pension payments.

Zaur was discharged by the police without obtaining a new propiska. This created an obstacle for him in receiving social services, as most state organizations require a place of residence registration before providing services. This situation became a real challenge for Zaur, depriving him of the opportunity to register elsewhere and receive the necessary social benefits.

This is when REActors stepped in, acting as intermediaries between Zaur and social services. They started by collecting the necessary documents that provided full information about his condition and needs. This included medical documents confirming HIV status and other documents necessary to resolve the issue of residence registration.

Next, the REActors actively searched for a suitable place for residence registration, taking into account all requirements and restrictions. However, their assistance was not limited to the selection. They also covered all costs related to registration and other necessary procedures. The resources for this were allocated from the paralegals’ funds, which emphasizes their dedication and willingness to help those in need. At the moment, the issue of Zaur’s place of residence is being resolved. 

This case became not only a vivid example of effective assistance to PLHIV in Azerbaijan but also emphasized the importance of the role of national REActors in ensuring social justice and inclusion. With their participation and support, a society is being created where every person can expect to be able to live a full life, regardless of their circumstances.

Also read:

Combating Discrimination Against Children with HIV in Kazakhstan Educational Institutions

Progress in Addressing Discrimination and Promoting HIV Awareness in North Macedonia

Response stories

Problems of HIV-positive prisoners in Azerbaijan

The issues faced by people living with HIV are not overlooked in Azerbaijan. The story of Samir (name changed) is just one of many cases, and former prisoners who have spent time in prison for breaking the law are well aware of the problem. Before being imprisoned, Samir injected drugs and got HIV as a result of improper syringe use. Despite his imprisonment, he did not stop his dangerous practice after his release. 

It was known that the Republican Narcology Center (RNC) could provide an opportunity to participate in an opioid substitution therapy (OST) program. However, Samir faced a refusal when he applied to the Center, motivated by the need to undergo mandatory treatment before joining the program.

In June 2023, Samir sought help from the REActor and asked for assistance in enrolling in the OST program. He explained that he was already taking antiretroviral treatment and enrolling in the program would help him to break the cycle.

Actions taken

Given that the organization is a member of the Country Coordinating Mechanism, which also includes the RNC, the project coordinator contacted the head of the Center. As a result of the discussion, it was agreed that Samir could be included in the OST program without mandatory pre-treatment. For convenience, Samir’s inclusion in the program was done at a point located at the Republican AIDS Center.


The current situation with HIV-positive prisoners in Azerbaijan has its own nuances. In recent years, the country has taken steps to improve access to health services, legal aid and social protection for key populations, including those released from detention. However, significant work remains to be done to achieve positive change.

Also read:

The Scarlet Letter: The Marking of a Person Living with HIV in North Macedonia

Discrimination against HIV-positive prisoners in Kazakhstan: Barriers to resocialization