The 700,000 displaced people who live in Azerbaijan are the survivors of a conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the mountainous region known as Nagorno-Karabakh. From 1988 to 1994, 35,000 people were killed, and one million uprooted.
The displaced Azerbaijani population has faced the same obstacles upon returning home as do returnees in other countries. The homes that they left behind are in shambles or completely destroyed. Or another family is residing in their homes or on their land. Many have tried to integrate into the crowded capital Baku, which creates friction with the city's longtime residents.
Eleven years after the ceasefire, they struggle to survive; many still live as refugees in camps polluted by pesticides or open sewers. Their shelters are abandoned railway cars, dilapidated buildings, the backs of trucks or homes dug underground. They try to live on humanitarian assistance in the amount of $3.50 per month for each adult and $2.10 for each child.
Started by a woman who was herself displaced, the Women Initiative Group, based in Baku, seeks to help women who are trying to reintegrate into their rural communities or settle permanently in the cities.
The group challenges cultural traditions that discourage the education of girls, many of whom are pushed into early marriage. As a result, many girls become pregnant and do not finish school. In turn, the children of these undereducated mothers have fewer chances to go to school or gain skills to obtain better-paid work. Displaced women are more likely to become victim to increasing trafficking, drug use and violence.
Committed to deepening women's sense of agency, the group has organized seminars on family planning among women in the Sumgait IDP (internally displaced persons) camp to encourage women to use contraception, rather than abortion, as a means of preventing pregnancy. As a result of the group's educational efforts, one of the area hospitals agreed to take care of women suffering from reproductive health problems free of charge.
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