When members of Azerbaijani feminist collective Femiskop travelled to the south of the country, they spent time talking to women in the fields. Droughts caused by climate change have hit the area hard, and families across villages in the Lankaran region, who grow rice, citrus fruits, and tea for a living, are struggling. Female farmers, locals say, struggle most of all. Some 40 per cent of jobs in Azerbaijan are in agriculture, and roughly half of the country’s farmers are women. Female farmers are particularly vulnerable to hardships caused by the changing climate, as they are less likely to be educated, and less likely to be able to access bank credits than their male counterparts, making them less productive and less likely to diversify their crops. Then there is the question of ownership. Women generally have no right to the land they work, but will do most of the daywork in the fields. If the lack of rain spoils the crops, then they must find work elsewhere in order to feed their families.
“Knowledge is important. The production of knowledge is important. That knowledge then becomes activism”
The collective aren’t surprised by these stories. They take them as proof that Azerbaijan needs ecofeminism: a movement that sees the fight for women’s rights and the battle to save the planet as deeply intertwined. “We wouldn’t call ourselves activists, but we do want to create a conversation,” says Femiskop co-founder Nazakat Azimli, an urbanism researcher and project manager based in the Netherlands. “Even within eco-activism — when we look at things like cycling initiatives — there is a lack of discourse on how climate change is happening and how it is impacting different communities in different ways. Marginalised communities will feel the worst of it, and we have to change that.”
Femiskop were formed in September 2019 after an impromptu episode of the podcast Shameless Women, when the team — Azimli and her co-founders, Aysel Akhundova, Ilaha Abasli, and Mujgan Abdulzade — decided they wanted to make more space for feminism and alternative viewpoints in Azerbaijan. Today, the collective have their own website, social media following, articles, and research, dissecting exactly how issues like climate change or gender inequality are affecting ordinary Azerbaijanis.
Gathering real-life stories and data is an important first step — simply because you can’t take action without knowing the ins-and-outs of the situation you’re in. Statistics might show that villages in Azerbaijan’s Bilasuvar region will receive an average of 70-80 days of rain each year. But one woman in the village of Samadabad, interviewed in an article which saw Femiskop join forces with local media outlet Chai Khana said that was simply no longer the case. In the second half of 2019, it only rained twice. That shortage pushed local women, who are responsible for household chores, to walk further than ever before to collect water. Less water also meant women faced problems while trying to keep their homes and children clean, risking the spread of disease. The task of caring for the sick, meanwhile, also falls on women’s shoulders.
“Knowledge is important. The production of knowledge is important,” says Akhundova, a film director and Femiskop’s project manager. “That knowledge then becomes activism. We have a thought and then it translates into action.”
But finding the texts and journals on gender or activism that the team and their contributors need to complete their work is often difficult. Little material is available in Azerbaijani, severely limiting the team’s pool of potential freelance writers. Those who can contribute, meanwhile, often find themselves struggling to balance writing with other paid work.
“With any challenge, often we come to solutions by picturing how a situation might look or feel. In that regard, creativity has always been a part of our platform. It’s about reimagining our world and our problems”
“It’s a struggle to find good content, because Femiskop is a heavily curated platform,” says Azimli. “The process can be very slow. The access to critical literature is non-existent, and that means limited sources.”
Femiskop are now testing new grounds with an EcoFeminist festival: an online event uniting artists and curators focusing on the issues of gender, ecology, and technology. Starting on 1 July, the conference will bring together participants from Azerbaijan, Central Asia, Russia, and Iran to talk about their work on the public stage.
At first glance, it can be hard to see how art fits in with Femiskop’s tireless drive for facts. But the answer is deceptively simple. We simply don’t have an alternative vision for the future — one in which the planet is no longer under threat, or where men and women have equal rights and opportunities. To get there, we have to use our imagination.
“When you’re limited in resources and interviews, fiction can be helpful in understanding the world around you,” says Akhundova. “With any challenge, so often we come to solutions by picturing how a situation might look or feel. In that regard, creativity has always been a part of our platform. It’s about reimagining our world and our problems.”
The team hope that this infusion of imagination will bring forward more voices ready to share their perspectives and visions of the future. As movements such as ecofeminism prove, it isn’t just scientific data in itself that matters — but it is how we look at those facts and deal with them.
“Seeing feminism as a uniform concept is wrong; it’s not one single ideology,” says Azimli. “There are so many different worldviews. Initially, feminism began with the leftist agenda, but really since then it has become many different things. It’s important to establish a dialogue, but it’s also very important to ensure that there are different voices in that discourse.”