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Azerbaijan: Can Segregated Beaches Be “Positive Discrimination”?

Azerbaijan: Can Segregated Beaches Be "Positive Discrimination"? by EurasiaNet

The contrast between the Azerbaijani government’s secular orientation and the country’s increasingly pious population is coming into sharp focus in a seaside town about an hour’s drive from the Iranian border.

Länkäran, a town of about 80,000 situated along the Caspian Sea, has gained a reputation over the past few decades as a bastion of piety. It also has an array of beguiling beaches.

Most local women, in keeping with traditional Shia Islamic beliefs, are wary of men seeing them in a swimsuit. Thus, many females in Länkäran tend to shun the sun and surf.

“Although I know the sun is good for my health, I would never go,” said 28-year-old business school student Nigar Heydarli, a local believer. “I consider this immoral. Satan is everywhere.”

One Länkäran schoolteacher in her early 40s agreed. “Showing your body to men is against our belief and we prefer not to go swimming to stay away from sinning,” she explained.

Looking forward, a 33-year-old Lankaran lawyer, Sadraddin Kazimov, aired an idea in early August that aimed to satisfy local preferences while enabling women to relax on the beach: he called for the construction of “a high fence” on public beaches to segregate men from women.

“This is our religion and this is our right to follow religious rules,” he wrote on August 1 on his Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) page. “Suntanning is good for our health. It is the responsibility of the government to take care of our health and rights.”

Kazimov’s post has attracted robust interest in the Azeri-language media...