Women in Azerbaijan nominally enjoy the same legal rights as men; however, societal discrimination was a problem. Traditional social norms and lagging economic development in the country’s rural regions continued to restrict women’s roles in the economy, and there were reports that women had difficulty exercising their legal rights due to gender discrimination.
Universal suffrage was introduced in Azerbaijan in 1918 by the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, thus making Azerbaijan the first Muslim country ever to enfranchise women. As of 2007, several women held senior government positions, including deputy speaker of parliament, several deputy ministers, and deputy chair of the Central Election Commission. There are no legal restrictions on the participation of women in politics. As of 2011, there were 19 women in the 125-seat parliament. The percentage of female members of parliament increased from 11 to 16 percent between 2005 and 2010.
As of May 2009, women held the positions of Deputy Chairman of the Constitutional Court, Deputy Chairman of the Nakhchivan AR Cabinet of Ministers, four Deputy Ministers, an Ambassador, and Ombudsmen of Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan AR. Women constituted 4 of the 16 members of the Central Election Commission and chaired of 3 of the 125 district election commissions. There were no female ministers or heads of executive governments of cities or rayons, except for Hijran Huseynova who chairs the State Committee for Family, Women and Children Affairs and Maleyka Abbaszadeh who is the chair of the State Students Admission Commission. The State Committee for Family, Women and Children Affairs of Azerbaijan Republic is the primary government agency overlooking the activities in protection of rights of women in the country.
During the active phase of the Nagorno-Karabakh War 2,000 of Azerbaijan's 74,000 military personnel were women, and 600 of them directly took part in the military operations. Military service for women is voluntary; currently there are around 1,000 women serving in the Azerbaijani army.
Though the majority of Azerbaijani women have jobs outside the home, women are underrepresented in high-level jobs, including top business positions. Women in Azerbaijan have few opportunities in the field of business. They face difficulties obtaining bank loans because the property they could potentially pledge is usually registered in the name of their male relatives. Banks do not often trust women with loans and in cases when they do, a woman's business is not perceived as serious and cannot compete on the market. In some cases, businesswomen become a target of rumours and even sexual harassment from male employees of state institutions in charge of accepting reports and documentations.
During 2011 female members of parliament and the head of the State Committee on Women and Children increased their activities against domestic violence. Media coverage of domestic violence issues also began to raise awareness of the problem. A 2010 law establishes a framework for investigation of domestic violence complaints, defines a process to issue restraining orders, and calls for the establishment of a shelter and rehabilitation center for victims. Rape is illegal and carries a maximum 15-year prison sentence. In Baku a women's crisis center operated by the Institute for Peace and Democracy provides free medical, psychological, and legal assistance for women. Representatives of the institute regularly appear on popular television talk shows to discuss women's issues. A new domestic violence law come into force in 2010, which criminalized spousal abuse, including marital rape.Prostitution is an administrative offense rather than a crime and is punishable by a fine of up to $102 (88 AZN). Pimps and brothel owners may be sentenced to prison for up to six years.