Masazir, Azerbaijan



Photographer: Mila Teshaieva

Year of Submission: 2016 (Educators Edition) 

Malahat Alieva is a mentor for younger women in Masazir, a municipality of three thousand people in eastern Azerbaijan. Her message: stand up for your rights and follow your dreams. A teacher in a local village school for almost her whole working life, the death of her husband several years ago persuaded her to try something new, and she stood for election to the municipality’s council. That could have been a risky move. Traditionally, women in rural Azerbaijan are discouraged from taking part in public life. Those who do usually find themselves stigmatised by other people, often including their own family. But it worked for Malahat. Despite only receiving support from women, she was elected, and ever since she has been a vocal advocate for women’s interests in Masazir. Asked to describe her outlook, she says, “My grandmother once told me: ‘A room has four corners; if you ever find yourself treated badly, don’t look for the door, just go and sit in another corner.’ I’ve turned that rule on its head. Now I try to help women in any kind of trouble find the door and go through it.”