Sociologist Javid Shahmaliyev has been taking part in projects designed to tackle the issue and promote the value of girls since 2010. Over the last three years, however, heʹs been faced with a very challenging task: re-educating the male representatives of this patriarchal culture.
"There are several awareness programmes throughout Azerbaijan that are either social media or event-based. But there are some people, especially those in rural areas, who either donʹt have Facebook or are unlikely to attend such events. They can only be convinced if you speak to them face-to-face. Weʹve been going from one teahouse to the next, talking to them man-to-man," explained Shahmaliyev.
He added that at the beginning it was difficult to gain their attention and respect, but over time, as instructors, they have been able to develop ways of communicating with them.
"They would consider talking about abortion, but because it is a taboo, we talk to them instead about the value of girls. We talk to them in the teahouses, we talk to them in the mosques. We raise awareness among religious leaders. Even though Azerbaijan is a Muslim country, Islamic ideas are not that known, so we told people what Islam says about the value of girls. The co-operation of the religious leaders and imams has brought tremendous results."
Daughters as blessings
One such imam who tackles sex-selective abortions is Oktay Quliyev. He participates in awareness projects and uses his weekly TV programme on a national channel to convince people that the practice is wrong. At the beginning, he said, he faced resistance from society, but talking about the Prophet Muhammad who had no son but a daughter, named Fatima, was a good way to capture peopleʹs attention.
"We mention verses from the Koran that prohibit the pre-Islamic tradition of burying girls right after they are born. We tell them there is no difference between this tradition and sex-selective abortion. We also tell them that the Koran specifically mentions daughters as being bearers of good news."