The women finding freedom in South Caucasus nightclubs

By Khanim Javadova
BBC News

Image source, Tamara Svirava
Image caption,
Georgian women do not find it difficult to party, though the country is still on its way to development
Image source, Adrineh Gregorian
Image caption,
Adrineh Gregorian says "reputation" is the main barrier to women in Armenia being allowed to go out
Image caption,
The Georgian capital Tbilisi has become a city with a bustling night life, including many bars and clubs
Image source, Turkhan Karimov
Image caption,
Some women in Azerbaijan prefer to stay at home, saying women's freedom is not about going on a night out
Image source, ANI LUKHAVA
Image caption,
Ani Lukhava says she proved to her family that she is safe when she goes out at night: "I'm not only adult now, I can also take care of myself".
Image source, Edgar Barseghyan
Image caption,
Some women in Armenia say they try not to stay out late out of consideration for their parents' and neighbours' opinion
Image source, Nutsi Odisharia
Image caption,
"I'm the mother of a young daughter, so she stays with her grandmother when I go out to get a bit of time for myself", Nutsi Odisharia says.
Image source, PR and Marketing LLC
Image caption,
"At the end of the 90s jazz clubs were established where we had discos and house parties", Nutsi Odisharia in Tbilisi says.

For women in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, going on a 'night out' is not just a chance to spend time with friends, but also an opportunity to highlight the social freedoms that they now have.

The three countries in the South Caucasus were once part of the Soviet Union, but after its break-up in 1991, they gained independence. Although people there now enjoy greater social freedoms than ever before, there is a divide between how men and women are treated. Many women, despite being old enough to vote, feel society will look down on them if they go out late in the evenings.

As a woman from Azerbaijan, I grew up seeing the women around me choosing to stay in during the evenings. But people who range from their 20s all the way to their 60s have a new approach to this now. I know many women who defy the stereotypes and will go out at night, not only to dance at night clubs, but also to for a walk, or enjoy the beauty of the lights of night-time Baku.

Of course, Western influences through education or increased tourism have begun to permeate these countries with music venues, bars and nightclubs becoming more prolific. And as the number of women working in the region increases, so does their spending power - and their desire for somewhere to spend it. The proportion of women employed in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia increased slightly between 2006 and 2011, according to the World Bank.

But for others, embracing this new lifestyle means getting a reputation as a "good-time girl and being ostracised by neighbours and families. They will share their pictures on social media, but take steps to ensure they remain anonymous. Others, however, want the whole world to know just what a a good time they are having.

Adrineh Gregorian, 36, documentary filmmaker, Yerevan, Armenia

Image source, Adrineh gregorian
Image caption,
Working women in Armenia have more financial freedom than ever before.

"I do go out at night. When everyone else in the city falls asleep, a new crowd takes over Yerevan and the nightlife begins. So far I haven't faced any criticism; in fact I feel like part of a community.

"Every year I notice an increase in the number of women going out. I think one reason is because young women are becoming financially independent and more and more women are making their own choices regardless of public opinion. Also, there is a new generation of young women who don't concede to the archaic concept of reputation; to be a so-called "good-time girl".

"Women who fear the opinions of others or their neighbours keep their personal lives a secret."

Astghik Papikyan, 24, environmentalist, Yerevan, Armenia

Image source, Astghik Papikyan
Image caption,
Astghik Papikyan says she can't come home too late or the neighbours will grumble

"I may go to a club or go for a walk with the people I know and trust, but I worry this might be misunderstood. There are some people who say 'if it is late, then this is bad', without checking where and who you are out with. Every Armenian girl who wants to live in an unassuming way should consider public opinion of course. But now these kind of stereotypes are disappearing - you can stay out until 23:00 local time.

"I try to be at home at 22:30. If I come home late, my parents don't like it, and I know the neighbours will grumble. This could then affect my future life and reputation. I know I am not doing anything wrong, but I need to adapt to the circumstances.

"Sometimes I go to karaoke clubs with my friends. There are many discos in Armenia, though these have not been easily accepted by society. People say a 'normal' girl would not go to these clubs. The situation is worse outside Yerevan. For example, in the second biggest city, Gyumri, there are no entertainment centres open at night because no-one goes.

"But karaoke is seen to be something a bit more acceptable; you can dance, sing and have fun, and people won't call you names.

"The situation may change, but it won't be easy - it might take 50 years at least."

Khayala Khalilli, 26, doctor, Ganja, Azerbaijan

"I have a master's degree in education and I work for a hospital in the capital city Baku.

"I don't think men or women should have a night life. It's not a healthy form of entertainment, and sleeping at night is very important. Also they drink alcohol in night clubs. I think people who drink alcohol are not thinking straight.

"For me, women's freedom is not about going on a night out. A woman should only think about getting educated, to be independent financially and to be confident enough to speak her own mind. I don't go on nights out and I have never been. Nobody in my close family goes clubbing.

"I have never been subject to any restrictions imposed by my family; I have had no interest in going to clubs. If I wanted to, I could go. I do sport after work, or I meet my friends, or I visit my relatives. When I go out with my friends, first we go to a cafe to have lunch, then we go for a walk in the city.

"I spend my holidays in foreign countries like Russia, Turkey and Iran. I also don't go clubbing in countries I visit. I'm interested in the culture and history of foreign countries, so I visit museums and libraries there."

Gulara Azimzadeh, 27, advertising specialist, Baku, Azerbaijan

Image source, Gulara Azimzadeh
Image caption,
Gulara Azimzadeh says she is happy her family doesn't impose restrictions on her now she is over the age of 18

"I go on nights out as well as evening concerts and night clubs.

"I think a woman should have time to go out and have fun in order to help her to get rid of the stress of her workload, the negative feelings and the aggression of the week, and also to get know new people. Otherwise this anger affects other people.

"Everyone should go to popular concerts at least five times a year.

"Let's consider that a woman stays at home, but a man goes to tea houses, clubs and so on. Does it mean that only men have the right to have fun? If so, let them change the name of Azerbaijan to 'the Male Republic of Azerbaijan'.

"The people who think that a woman should stay at home have been conditioned by their families. But some of the women cannot go out, because of lack of money, or safety or they want to be a 'good girl' so they can get married.

"My family used to think like this, but I have changed them. If you have a love of life, you try to resist these restrictions.

"I'm not 18 anymore."

Nutsi Odisharia, 37, programme manager, Tbilisi, Georgia

Image source, Nutsi Odisharia
Image caption,
Nutsi Odisharia spends most of her weekends out with friends and family

"I meet family members and friends on Fridays after work and on Saturdays as well. We go out to restaurants first, then go clubbing. We don't go out every week, but it is mostly how we spend our weekends.

"I'm the mother of a young daughter, so she stays with her grandmother when I go out to get a bit of time for myself.

"I don't hear any kind of criticism from the older generation or religious people. But it hasn't always been like this. In the 1990s there were no night clubs: we had war and poverty. But at the end of the 1990s jazz clubs were established where we had discos and house parties. Generally, Georgian people like to eat, dance and have fun."

Natia Topchidze, 29, PR manager, Batumi, Georgia

Image source, Natia Topchidze
Image caption,
Natia Topchidze says she has no conflicts with her family but has to be home by midnight after a night out

"I spend my spare time with my friends, I don't like to stay at home. We go to the cinema, or if we know there is any kind of an event on, we go there. The only restriction I have from my parents is to be at home by midnight. Also they want to know who I'm going out with, and where. I think this comes from outside opinion as I'm divorced and have a baby.

"I don't want to have any conflict with my family as I have to live with them. But I think everyone should go out and have fun. My mother is very modern, for example, I have a tattoo and she likes it very much. But her character is different, she doesn't like to have fun, she prefers to stay at home.

"I often go on nights out. I have many friends, and I go out for a birthday parties often. We go to clubs if there is any interesting event on. If it is birthday party we do everything in moderation, like drinking, dancing and having fun. Sometimes very interesting events start very late. Some of events start at 23:00, but I cannot stay and I'm forced to go home. Of course, if I could, I'd stay more two hours."

More on this story