Aaron in Azerbaijan

Just another blog about Azerbaijan.

Gender Roles in the Office

with 3 comments

If you didn’t know it already, gender is a big deal here.  For a lot of us PCVs, one of the most glaring injustices we witness is limits on the choices women are allowed to make.  They stretch across all sectors of life, from whether women can go to the bazaar to if they are allowed to get a job to their role as housewife.  It is certainly possible to craft a case blaming men as oppressors, taking away women’s choices in order to keep them subservient and maintain a stranglehold on society in favor of a patriarchal, male-dominated, male-serving social stratum.  Certainly possible.  But I’m not really in a good position to make that case and, though I’m sympathetic to it, there are others who can probably make the case better than me.  I can’t claim to be able to penetrate the Azerbaijan’s collective male mind that well.  Instead, I think it’s enough to keep things in the Reputation-Shame paradigm.  This basically says that women should not be seen in public, going out, spending time with men who are not her family, and the like, because it is possible she could be judged as a loose woman, disrespectful of her family or husband and, thus, ruining her name and reputation and that of her family.  For the single women, that means ruining marriage chances and inviting unwholesome advances from men.  For the married, it leaves a bit of a stain on the family reputation and looks bad for the husband.  The community then proceeds to look poorly on these unfortunate ones.

This is all in introduction to the most recent change in the Customer Service Department at the Lənkəran branch of AccessBank.  Talking with my branch manager, Rəhman, he told me that he changed the organization of the department into two units, one for doing work within the office, like contracts, and another for doing work outside the office, like direct marketing.  It’s the women in the office, the men out doing the work in public.  My American senses started going off, thinking about the injustice of relegating tasks as male and female tasks (oh, the chauvinism!).  Yet, the reality is that my branch manager is looking out for his employees.  Sending the women out to do direct marketing wouldn’t be good for their reputations around town.  If they’re married, they’re husbands might stop letting them come to work (Even for one of my colleagues, her husband let’s her work, but doesn’t let her go to the bazaar).  If they’re single, again, the ‘loose woman’ reputation comes up.

So what is there to do?  At the same time as I want women to break all these social mores and do what they want, nobody wants them to lose their life in the community.  But then again, if nobody puts their neck out to push the gender boundary, how will that boundary ever get pushed?


Written by Aaron

August 4, 2010 at 4:14 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. Aaron, Your post is a reminder that it was so in the US as recently as the late ’70’s. (Okay I’m using my age card here.) Here’s my story. I held a sales support position calling with male sales reps on hospitals thru out the US. I was paid $8000/year less than male counterparts. Also, the wife of one of the salesmen actually called my boss and asked that I not travel with her husband. Guess she was protecting his reputation! Ha!
    So maybe the place to start is with the pay scale. Are the wages for the womens’ inside jobs at AccessBank comparable to the mens? Just wonderin’.

    Margaret aka Peggy

    August 5, 2010 at 7:27 pm

  2. I would agree, Aaron, Azerbaijan is very traditional when it comes to gender roles. Especially in regions. Baku is a bit different but the same patterns can be found there too.
    Yet I think honor-shame paradigm does not explain everything. Frankly, I’m tired of anthropologists reducing everything into X or Y paradigms. To me, it seems, reality is more complex than that. Economy and religion have lion’s share too.

    Xoşca qal,

    The Movie-ing Maniac

    August 6, 2010 at 2:54 am

    • Hey Maniac–Thanks for the input. I agree that we can’t reduce everything to various paradigms, but I do think that understanding the role of your reputation here is the key to understanding why people behave a certain way. You are absolutely correct that it is not everything, but I think it cannot be ignored. If I were to name a few other things, in addition to shame, I would agree with you about economics and religion (religion, which i think has a hand in effecting the shame aspect) and also fear. There is a lot of fear here that I think drives everyone from people at the top in government, to people in my small neighborhood in Lankaran.


      August 16, 2010 at 2:57 pm

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