Celebrating births has become a major industry in Azerbaijan, where event planners say festivities to mark the arrival of a new baby can rival even wedding parties.
Baku-based events planner Sakhavat Kazimov says over the past 14 years, the tradition of welcoming a new baby has gone from bringing “flowers and a small present” to a “celebration equal to wedding parties.”
That is especially the case when families are welcoming a long awaited son. “We often have clients who demand a high-quality event, regardless of the price,” he said. While small birth celebrations cost on average of 200 euro, they easily grow to over 10,000. (The average monthly salary is roughly 420 manat.)
Shahla Ismayil, a gender equality expert, says the preference for boys is a reflection of Azerbaijan’s patriarchal culture.
Ismayil, the head of the Women’s Association for Rational Development (WARD), has been working on gender equality in Azerbaijan for over two decades. She said gender stereotypes are a key part of the problem.
“In Azerbaijan, gender stereotypes exist. A boy is valued as the family’s heir, and they feel secure if there is at least one boy,” she says.
Gender issues expert Khalisa Shahverdi noted that families also view boys as a guarantee they will be cared for in their old age. “People still think that a girl is not in their home forever, she gets married and will take care of another family. But a boy will marry and stay with his parents and his wife will take care of them,” she explains.
The preference for sons is visible in a thousand small and large ways, ranging from the banal – like the size of the celebrations to mark the birth (bigger for boys) – to the serious, like pressure to abort a fetus if it is female.
Statistically, Azerbaijan has the second highest rate of gender selective abortions in the world after China, according to research by the UN Population Fund.
The situation deteriorated following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the advent of ultrasounds to determine the gender of a fetus. In the 1980s, there were 105 boys born to even 100 girls, according to official statistics. By 1998, there were 120 boys born for every 100 girls.
A 2013 study found that Azerbaijan lost an estimated 10 percent of female fetuses were aborted between the years of 2005 to 2009.