This article was originally published in Azerbaijani by the
BBC Azerbaijani Service.
Azerbaijani photographer, Sitare Ibrahimova, has become the subject of active online discussion after completing a recent project titled, Reflketor – Wedding Night.
Sitare Ibrahimova has done other projects in the past related to women’s issues in Azerbaijan, including child marriages and selective abortion.
This time, she decided to do a piece on the subject of virginity and hymenoplasty – the surgical practice of repairing the hymen – and drew upon voices and experiences of women from Azerbaijan’s provinces for inspiration:
“I heard from residents of Nakhchivan and other regions that on wedding nights, men ask their brides to do repeatedly do squats.”
This test is supposedly used to check whether the hymen has been reconstructed with hymenoplasty.
In protest of the unfair standard of virginity set on women, Sitare Ibrahimova released the following video:
“My main goal with this piece was to change the attitudes on women in our society. We live in the 21st century, and virginity should not be an issue.”
The photographer noted with some disappointment that the majority of commenters on her video were from Azerbaijan’s capital Baku, where the issue of virginity, while still important, is less of an important issue than in the regions of Azerbaijan.
“Girls that finish university in Baku are more free and live more independent lives – not like what you see in the regions. This problem is much more current and relevant in the regions. While creating my projects, I have repeatedly met with girls that were unable to attend university, and never had the opportunity to really speak with people about these issues.”
“These girls [in the regions] make for a sad picture. They are positioned about the house like furniture. First they are supervised and watched over by their fathers and brothers. Then, it’s as if they’re are transferred into their husbands, like property, who then continue to administrate and rule over their lives. For that reason, I find this whole issue of virginity rather comical; because I see that it is in fact the men who are the ones with complexes and problems to solve – not the women.”
According to Ibrahimova, the issue of virginity is caused by men’s desire “to be the one and only.”
“But for people that have seen the outside world and have a decent education, the question of a woman’s virginity does not factor into one’s decision of whether a person is good or bad, or whether she’ll make a good or bad wife and life – partner.”
“I believe that a woman is a future mother, the progenitor of the next generation and its up-bringer. But if the next generations continue to act in such a stupid way, I am afraid that we will not see any development in our country.” she added.
Even though this project was presented in Yarat Art Center one month ago, people continue to comment:
“I was very happy that my project was brought to people’s attention on social media. Sometimes, projects such as mine presented at exhibitions do not reach their intended audience, because the intended audience doesn’t come to art exhibitions. Those who came to the exhibition probably did not have a problem with the issue of virginity…they came, they saw, and then they left with a look of slight surprise.”
According to her, some commenters considered the video a real clip:
“Some people don’t understand, they think this is me, and that my husband filmed me and shared it, but unfortunately, this is because of people’s ignorance, because they don’t have the time to read an article… I realized this project in an official capacity, and for that reason the project’s name is, “Reflektor”, that is, I wanted to reflect social problems that I see in society.”
She added that the aim is to provoke people into reacting, because “if no one brings up these issues in society, they will never be solved.
Sitare Ibrahimova wants for girls to be able to receive an education, and to not be afraid of forming and living their own lives:
“We are already living in the 21st century, we must believe in ourselves. And belief in the self must begin with the family. A girl must have faith and trust in herself, and not consider herself less than a man. She has the same right to her emotions and feelings as does anyone else, and the same rights to live and get an education. For that reason, changes surrounding these issues must begin in the family: let them get an education, don’t let them get married too early. Let them travel the world! Let them read!”