Civil activist Samira Bairamova is one of those rare women who went against long-standing customs at the expense of her own life and now defends the rights of other girls.
Samira is a lawyer and sociologist. Now she is employed at the organization “Mercy Corps” on the position of Results Measurement Officer. Samira is the founder of the non-governmental organization Journalists’ Network for Gender Equality. She the local coordinator of the project “Critical Political School in Kvemo Kartli” of the Human Rights and Monitoring Center. Samira volunteers at the community Radio Marneuli and hosts the talk show ‘The Point of Discussion’ where she analyzes numerous problematic issues together with her guests. At the same time, Samira is actively involved in ending the premature or forced marriage, promoting civil awareness and protecting the rights among ethnic Azerbaijani population-based in Kvemo Kartli.
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I was born in the village of Algeti, Marneuli Municipality. I often think that my village – 15km away from Marneuli – is actually thousands of kilometers away from Georgia: Authentic culture and traditions do isolate Algeti from the rest of Georgia. I was on the field trip to Tbilisi at the age of 9 – Then I visited the capital for the first time. I first had communication with Georgians at the age of 18.
I was an unwanted child – the second girl was born in the family and after this, the doctors told my mother that she would not be able to have children in the future. The relatives were asking my father to leave my mother. Both sides of my family started to hate me.
I studied in Azerbaijani language school of Algeti. Only the teacher of Georgian language was Georgian. Actually, it seemed I faced an insurmountable barrier beyond Marneuli and all my dreams were related to Azerbaijan.
I wanted to continue my studies on the faculty of law at Baku State University in Azerbaijan. A lawyer is a very prestigious profession in Azerbaijan, however, studying is linked to very high costs. When I finished school back in 2006, my family faced a financial crisis. We all got together and counted the number of costs necessary for me to study and live in Azerbaijan. We realized our family could not afford such expenses. There was no other way left – I grabbed books and dictionaries and started to learn the Georgian language and literature by myself. I got enrolled in the faculty of the law next year.
During the first two years at school, I found it very difficult to study. In parallel with my studies, I was still practicing the Georgian language by learning 100 new words per day. Together with the language skills, I gained an understanding of other subjects and my own rights as well. Then I first realized that Azerbaijan is not my homeland. Georgia is my homeland and I have the same rights as every ethnic Georgian citizen.
I was not satisfied enough with the knowledge I gained at school. I wanted to learn much more. My parents explained that the skills I had acquired were already enough for a woman and there was no need to try harder. It had no sense to resist. I realized if I did not obey them, they would limit me even more. I still coped with this crisis situation: I told my parents that I had additional lectures at school until 6 pm – that’s how I managed to learn English and improve my computer skills.
During the second year of my studies, I started working. I have been financially independent since then – I have not asked for any coins from my family anymore. After graduating from the faculty of law, I got enrolled in the faculty of Sociology at Tbilisi State University.
My past life also drives me to fight against premature marriage and defend women’s rights. Even though my parents had received higher education, they still were not able to go against the stereotypes and traditions firmly rooted in society. I have never discussed this issue publicly before. I share this with you for the first time ever. My parents made me engaged at the age of 15 – I did not even know if they were planning my marriage. One day after school I discovered lots of people near my home. When I asked what was happening, I found out that all these people were preparing for my wedding.
I did not know my fiancé. I did not know who he was. I tried to convince my parents that I was planning to continue my studies at the university after finishing school, thus I did not want to get married. My mother threatened that if I don’t stay silent and go against the will of my parents, they will force me to leave home. I had categorically decided not to get married or return to that family. On a halfway distance, while the car was crossing the bridge, I opened the door and jumped out of the high-speeding car. I woke up at the hospital. My potential husband told that he did not want to lead me to suicide as I was obviously against the marriage. I was returned home. Both my parents and my relatives were complaining that my family got embarrassed due to my stubbornness. They were repeating I would have to carry the status of a divorced woman throughout my whole life and no one would like to marry me again. None of their attempts was affective. I explained I would kill myself if they return me to that family again. They gave up as soon as they realized I was not kidding at all.
This is the biggest trauma of my life. I still can’t forgive my parents for this behavior. A few years later, when my marriage popped up on the everyday agenda again, I told my parents I was not a child anymore. I was already well-informed about my own rights and they could no longer influence my decisions.
It is very hard to go against your parents and unwritten rules backed up by centuries, especially in traditional society. Many girls like me still don’t know that the law defends them from premature or forced weddings. I wish no other girl ever gets forced to injure herself like me.
When I find out that a minor girl is being married, I go to her family and try to convince her parents to change the decision. I explain the negative effects premature marriage may result and how it influences the physical and mental health of an underage girl.
I do also work on girls’ empowerment. I usually meet up with high school students or young women and discuss gender equality and women’s rights issues. I explain that they all can go to the police, if needed.
When I see that the family is not much interested in my opinion and still intends to marry a minor girl, I apply to the police or Public Defender. As a result of my intervention, 10 girls have already been survived from premature or forced marriages. The last similar case occurred two months ago. The girl on her second year at the university was being married against her own will. I applied to the Ministry of Internal Affairs which issues a restraining order. Now that girl is very happy, as she can’t be forced to get married.
I don’t need the grant to visit different villages and meet people. It is already three years I have been organizing meetings with my own initiative and resources. I have free weekends to visit the villages and meet the local population. I often go straight to the fields or greenhouses where women work and talk to them on the place. I visit Chaikhanas as well. Chaikhana is a gathering place for ethnic Azerbaijani decision-maker men thus communicating with them is very important. My friends do often support me as well. I try to attract young, active and successful women. I wish little girls in rural areas to believe in real-life examples portraying they can do learn and succeed as well.
Gender and women’s rights issues are not the only areas of my interests. During the pre-election period, I discuss electoral legislation and the citizens’ rights with the local population. Frankly speaking, local authorities are not very happy with this. A new type of fight campaign was used against me two years ago – Due to the meetings about the women’s rights among Azerbaijani women, they named me an ‘enemy of traditions’ and demanded my expulsion from the village. They made a fake account in social network and disseminated dirty rumors about me. I applied to the prosecutor’s office. This case has not been investigated so far. It is not easy to be a human rights defender wherever the majority is ready to trample on your rights and the law enforcement system does not protect you properly. Nevertheless, I still continue my work. Rumors and defamatory campaigns can’t scare me.
Author: Manana Vardiashvili
This article was prepared in the frame of the project ” Promoting new women leaders and ‘invisible women’ human rights activists” implemented by IREX Europe in partnership with Human Rights House Tbilisi, with financial support from the European Commission. The views in this article do not necessarily express the views of the European Commission.