During her official visit to the region, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with members of Azerbaijan’s Women’s Bar Association (WBA) and congratulated them on their achievements. The WBA focuses on promoting gender equality by educating rural and underserved populations and on fostering a pro bono culture within the legal profession, efforts that Secretary Clinton commended. She also said she appreciates the supportive role the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) plays in these activities.
Earlier, Ambassador Melanne Verveer, director of the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Global Women’s Issues, met with WBA representatives to discuss women’s rights in Azerbaijan and in the Caucasus region generally. WBA members said domestic violence, human trafficking, and early and forced marriage were some of the challenges women in the region face.
Among the challenges cited was the occurrence of illegal marriages, often in rural Azerbaijani communities, between men and girls as young as 12. While these marriages are approved by local mullahs and tacitly accepted by corrupt local officials, the state does not recognize them. This exposes vulnerable young brides to a host of legal complications, including with regard to inheritance and child support.
In sharing their perspectives, WBA members said that educating those in rural and religious communities about the problem, and taking a stronger stance against officials who allow or condone early marriages, would help in rectifying the problem. Ambassador Verveer said she will share these recommendations at an upcoming Congressional hearing, during which she will testify about international women’s human rights issues.
Launched with ABA ROLI support in 2006, the WBA provides women lawyers a forum to lobby for women’s rights. The association started with a working group of 25 women, and has since grown into a fully functioning, registered non-governmental organization of nearly 300 members.
To learn more about our work in Azerbaijan, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.