Expanding Voices: Women’s Forum
Something you feel after living in Azerbaijan, for even a short time, is that many of the people are stifled in their efforts to make changes for themselves. And stifled in their ability to voice their disagreements, opinions, dissatisfaction, and so on. Sometimes you hear about people trying repeatedly to get things fixed in their community (ex: Parts of Lənkəran still have no access to the city gas lines). They send letters or go to the local authorities but resolution is not forthcoming, and the efforts are eventually discouraged because the bureaucracy tires people out. These aren’t necessarily political problems, more in the focus of the international community, so much as they are community and social issues needing resolution.
So in the spirit of expanding opportunities for Azerbaijani citizens to express themselves, social media has become an intense focus for the movers and shakers of young Azerbaijanis. You only need to go to Arzu’s site a few times to see how much she uses and promotes social media as a way to use her voice. A great example, however, of social media providing a voice for Azerbaijan is Women’s Forum. I’m actually surprised I haven’t written about Women’s Forum previously. Started in September of 2009 (a month before I arrived here), the site projects itself as a safe place for women to discuss their roles in society, gender topics, taboos, and other subjects of interest. They have interviews with women from various backgrounds and at different stages of their personal and professional development. Women’s Forum also aggregates content from other popular blogs by Azeri women, such as Scary Azeri or Sheki, Azerbaijan. And in the interest of making the site and its values widely available, Women’s Forum is available in Azerbaijani, Russian, and English (though, there is much less English content than Azeri or Russian content…understandably so).
Aside from the generally great driving force of ideas behind Women’s Forum, I’m writing about it because I’ve started working on a project with the site founders. Funded by a grant from the Democracy Commission, we are engaging a new group of young bloggers in order to train them and incorporate their work into Women’s Forum. Along with fellow PCV, Bailey, and the Women’s Forum staff, we are putting together a blog training program. This set of bloggers will complete the training, and then follow that up with five months of writing for their personal blogs and for Women’s Forum. It’s a way to build the capacities of these bloggers, as well as boost the breadth and reach of Women’s Forum. As we have just finished two days of interviews, with one day left, of potential contributors, my optimism for the project is at record highs! We’ve been interviewing women in Azeri, Russian, and English, getting an idea of their motivations, abilities, and styles. It’s been a pleasure meeting these people, as well as working with the Women’s Forum folks.
One of the aspects of this project that particularly interests me, however, is that there is a premium being put on the work of these contributors. The writers will be paid for their contributions to the project, putting a value on their voice. As I pointed out above, Azerbaijan can be seen as a place where your individual voice may not have much value unless you can really back it up (hint: $$). As Women’s Forum puts a real value to the voices of these contributors, it shows that, even while your local administration doesn’t value your voice much, we should be conscientious about recognizing the value of the voices of these Azerbaijani women. Showing that the thoughts, opinions, and contributions of members of society is a valuable commodity is a lesson that should be felt no matter where you are.
Update, 6/27/2011: You can now find a convenient link to Women’s Forum along the right side under the Azerbaijan Sites category. Happy Reading!