I’ve got a few observations here about Azeri society in relation to gender. These are by no means original, and I think most people would agree (if you’ve got some Azerbaijan experience, let me know if you don’t agree).
The first thing to know about gender here is that it’s a rather rigid base we’re working on. The overriding paradigm is that women belong in the house cooking, cleaning, doing stereotypically womanly things. For a concrete example, women always serve tea. If there is a woman around, she’s the one who will serve tea (and this is a big deal–tea, along with bread, are quite possibly the two most important things in the daily life of an Azeri). Only in the more extreme situations will men serve tea. Or any food, for that matter. This puts Azerbaijan into what I think is approximately 1950s USA. Ask an Azeri man what a wife is for, and most often the answer will be something along the lines of cooking and cleaning and generally keeping house. Even the seemingly more liberal of them maintain that outlook.
A few other things: While its generally okay for men to drink alcohol in public, it is not okay for women. I have not seen a woman even take a sip in public. Rumors abound that most women who want to drink will do so in the privacy of their homes when no men are around. And they will only drink wine. Often, the same goes for internet clubs. While there are internet clubs that are available for both genders, some of them, often those which are shrouded with black curtains or are in the basement of a building, are only for men. These are the cafes in which the men like to peruse the wealth of porn offered by the internets.
The last thing I’ll add is about relations between men and women are rather limited. It’s almost stifling. A woman talking to a man? She’s probably a loose girl. This presents some serious problems for many of the PCVs here. Most often, its the women who are the driven ones in this society, making them far more interesting to talk to than the small gangs of young men creepily hanging out at the tea gardens or on the streets. And around here, English teachers are women. So even those who just want to speak English for the sake of practicing will be dubbed loose women when seen talking to a foreigner.
This also means that the dating scene here is pretty bizarre. If you want to take it really far, you might go to the local park and sit on benches 30 feet from each other and stare. Mostly, though, you’ll probably just say that you’re together without ever having talked to the other person. For those who want to cross the line, the safest option is to sit next to each other in the park (with a safe distance between you), and you’ll hook pinky fingers with your significant other. At ages of 20-24, this might seem a little strange to many Americans.