Publication Date

1999

Abstract

This research paper explores the connection between reproductive health trainings and empowerment for internally displaced women in Azerbaijan. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) reproductive health trainings and women's groups in Agcabedi, Azerbaijan are the contexts in which empowerment through reproductive health training was explored. The approach was to explore, categorize and summarize internally displaced women's definitions and personal experiences of empowerment, and to examine this in context with the literature on empowerment in various fields such as public health. The research activity both provided a forum of expression for the internally displaced women and became a means of empowerment in itself for the women participating in the focus groups. This research involved gathering information on what internally displaced women see as both useful and necessary, and will hopefully help organizations to focus on these needs while planning future programs in Azerbaijan. This study revealed that the women involved have clearly become more empowered in many areas due to the IRC Reproductive Health Program in Azerbaijan. However, strong cultural norms, conditions due to the war, living as internally displaced people (IDP's), and financial realities leave the women with many areas in which they do not yet feel empowered. Although men are also affected by many of these factors, women are weighted down with the added responsibility of being the principal if not sole family care-giver due to traditional gender roles and cultural norms. When women gain more power, social and economic relations change. Although this research shows there is growing support for the women's education and empowerment from the men and older women in the community, there is always a struggle involved with change. It is important for IRC's program to continue to support the women in the areas in which they now feel empowered. It is also crucial for IRC to continue to collaborate with other NGO's, the Azeri government, local hospitals and organizations to create changes in the areas which still need focus, for example: consistent access to contraceptives and healthcare, more supportive living conditions, more access to loans, grants, and other financial aids, communication and transport, the opportunity to continue to learn more skills and to utilize these at home and work, and overall more support and empowerment in their own lives. IRC originally came to Azerbaijan to operate in a crisis situation, however, its role has gradually evolved into the area of development. Transferring power and resources from IRC to the local community is a crucial challenge IRC is now facing. The sustainability of an effective reproductive health program depends largely on this, and on the continued support and involvement of the Azeri government, local NGO's and local hospitals. A final critical factor is the education and involvement of men in supporting the empowerment of women for the greater good of the community as a whole.

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