Social Rights Development in Azerbaijan

Community-based strategies to include vulnerable and isolated children to pre-school education – a project co-funded by the EU and OSI in Azerbaijan

The EU OSI co-funded project aims to include isolated children to preschool.

The EU and OSI co-funded project aims to include isolated children to preschool.

Democratic development has become a divisive term – signifying to the political elite that external forces are interfering with national politics, signifying to opposition and activists all the negative trends in this country.  However, it has a more benign meaning amongst many other ordinary citizens worldwide, that of freedom to participate in political, economic and social life.

The aim of this project is to explore how the new freedoms in this post-Soviet society can become a catalyst for change in the social welfare of children excluded from pre-school due to poverty, location and disability.

What you are prepared to contribute is one determinant of the kind of society you will continue to live in.  Therefore, with freedom comes social responsibility, both for the Government to provide the necessary resources for public goods such as health, education and social protection, and for citizens to participate in the planning and application of these resources.  In other words, we are not talking about freedom from responsibility but the freedom to be responsible for the future of our children.

Who better to represent the interests of a child, of a family and of a community than the family and community themselves.  It is an interest that binds everyone together, whether rich or poor.  Those who are richer have more opportunity to choose but this does not mean that those who are poorer or who are more isolated by their location, or who have a child with developmental problems have no opportunities to improve the welfare of their children.  What it means is that partnership between the State and citizens becomes more essential in order to meet the needs and social rights of all citizens.

Citizenship, the essence of democracy, can be divided into civil, political and social rights, with social rights being defined as education, housing, health and social protection.  Historical analysis shows us that social rights, a man’s social status, is determined by his level of participation in society.  During the Soviet Union, provision of universal education, health and welfare systems as well as job security, price subsidies and accommodation were rights of all citizens who were able to contribute to the system.  After this system collapsed, and the subsequent introduction of market economy principles, these universal rights were eroded, as the budget to support them evaporated.  Economic development has undoubtedly led to many positive changes in Azerbaijan but has also contributed to increasing exclusion of some sectors of the population.  Therefore, a new mechanism for negotiation of these rights is necessary, to reduce this exclusion and improve equity of access to public resources.

NGOs emerged as a bridge between society and the State and they have done much to raise awareness and improve social welfare.  However, we must be careful not to understand civil society as being solely the domain of NGOs.  It is not without reason that they are sometimes referred to as ‘grant-eaters’.  Civil society depends upon the growth of many different types of groups, people coming together to solve a problem, or support each other in the absence of official structures.  Sustainability of civil society programs tends to focus upon training in fundraising and management skills yet sustainability is more dependent upon energy, drive and mutual cooperation, which are traits more commonly present when related to issues that affect a particular community’s health, education and social welfare.

We chose to adopt the concept of the Self-Help Group as a type of voluntary association in our project.  The main purpose of a SHG is that members come together to fulfill a commonly perceived need.  To ensure equal participation, all members need to be committed to meeting this need, and clear about what role they can perform.  This can be a difficult phase in the process of group formation; sometimes, power struggles occur between members of the group and sub-groups form around those involved in the power struggle.  What it is important to remember is that each member has something to contribute to the group in their own way; this could range from time, space, communication with other members, transportation, creative ideas, and willingness to give extra assistance to children with special needs.

In my many years in Azerbaijan, I have continually observed a strong pride in in the country’s heritage and culture and this pride can transform the partnership between State and citizens in meeting the needs and rights of your children.  How a community perceives itself determines how others perceive the community.  This pride becomes a mobilizing force and attracts the positive attention of supporters, other communities and national authorities.  This is how systems grow, services reach more children and the overall strength of the nation increases.

Finally, one ingredient that is essential if this type of social movement is to grow and reach more children and families is transparency of actions.  Transparency builds the trust between citizens, and between the voluntary associations and State bodies to ensure that the needs and rights of children are the priority.  We do this by demonstrating the cost of establishing SHG, including training in ECD, equipment and mentoring.  We do this by encouraging discussion between local authorities and community members, promoting the role of each person in the pursuit of the project’s goal.  We reduce the barriers to inclusion by raising awareness and changing attitudes towards change

If we assume that Azerbaijan is heading in a democratic direction, as historical trends would suggest, then the question about the new role of Government and the new role of citizens becomes ever more relevant and the contribution that citizen can make must be widely shared, understood and celebrated.


Gwen Burchell
United Aid for Azerbaijan




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