The first time I was harassed on the street was a day I’ll never forget; I was walking down a street in a pair of jeans and pink t-shirt when an old man yelled out, “hi sexy!” I was 12. Ever since that day I took up anti-street harassment as my personal cause.
Since I am so passionate about women’s rights, I felt compelled to write about my experiences with the phenomenon in Azerbaijan. It appears that some people have taken my commentary – When Will The Catcalls Stop? published by EurasiaNet.org on January 10 -- to be a demonization of the entire country. But this is not the case. Let me be clear: I care about Azerbaijan. I like living in the country, I have local friends for whom I care deeply and I think that in a lot of ways it is a great place. Baku is very well developed, there’s good food and people are generally kind and hospitable.
I also think, as the article says, that the government has made a lot of progress in the way of promoting women’s rights. I applaud First Lady Mehriban Aliyev’s anti-domestic violence activities and generally the government’s respect towards women. Thus, it is clear that on the legal-governmental level progressive thought exists. I also personally know a good number of people who are similarly open-minded and support women’s equality.
This does not change the fact that harassment is a real and grave problem in Baku. Saying so is not condemning all of Azerbaijan, not at all. In fact, it means I think society here has reached an advanced enough point to talk about this issue, which is by all means a nuanced and complex one. Furthermore, my analysis comes from a place of appreciation; I care about Azerbaijan, I prayed to get the Fulbright to come here. Therefore, this piece was meant to raise awareness, not to say Azerbaijan is bad, or that the men here are terrible.
I don’t want this piece be taken out of context: I am saddened by the fact that I have seen Armenians reposting it to demonize Azerbaijan because this is not what I was writing about. The fact that I enjoying being in Baku does not mean there are no issues to discuss. When you love something, you want it to be its best- that is what I was trying to do with my commentary.
I’d like to emphasize that I see street harassment as a global problem. It has happened to me in every single country I have visited or lived in. And almost everywhere there is very little discussion about how harmful the phenomenon is, and how it can be addressed.
I have often vocally criticized American society for precisely such ills. In the US, where the discussion about street harassment is not exactly novelty, a lot of people still refuse to take the issue seriously and that upsets me.