There has been controversy of late regarding the appointment of Mehriban Aliyeva as the new First Vice-President of Azerbaijan.
An ophthalmologist, Dr. Aliyeva has been a member of the National Assembly of Azerbaijan since 2005, is the current President of The Heydar Aliyev Foundation, and is a UNESCO and ISESCO Goodwill Ambassador.
Given her many accomplishments, what is so controversial? It is the fact that she is the first lady of Azerbaijan, the wife of President Ilham Aliyev who appointed her to the position.
Dr. Aliyeva was appointed First Vice-President of Azerbaijan on February 21, 2017. Since then, there have been repeated articles in the American press and global media about this decision, with the main derision solely being that she is married to the President of her country. The press has largely ignored her many accomplishments and instead has focused mainly on her family.
According to the Washington Post, the position of First Vice-President of Azerbaijan was established as a result of a referendum last fall to identify the person who would succeed the President if he were to resign or become incapacitated. The First Vice-President will also likely oversee the cabinet.
Dr. Aliyeva, through her leadership of The Heydar Aliyev Foundation, partners with numerous global agencies, non-governmental organizations, and humanitarian endeavors. Such partners include 32 embassies, the World Affairs Council of America, and UNICEF, just to mention a few.
Some of the many goals of the foundation are to promote religious tolerance and assist the vulnerable groups of the population of Azerbaijan and abroad. As president of the foundation, she oversees a vast organization and her responsibilities include implementing its goals, identifying the foundation’s target priorities, and managing the huge structure of the foundation.
Americans have had a long history of focusing on female candidates as being unfit due to their familial ties. Look at the 2016 election, during which Secretary Hillary Clinton had to repeatedly defend the decisions made during her husband’s administration. Despite Secretary Clinton’s own accomplishments, including being Secretary of State, one of the highest positions in the U.S. cabinet, her opponents (both Republicans and Democrats) held her accountable for President Bill Clinton’s choices during his administration.
First Vice-President Aliyeva also has political experience of her own, separate from her family. She received greater than 90% of constituency votes in three different parliamentary elections. The humanitarian element of her work has emphasized improving the living conditions of people, both home and abroad. As president of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, she directed the building of numerous schools and hospitals as well as donations to assist the Louvre Museum in France and the Palace of Versailles.
Similar to many first ladies of the United States, First Vice-President Aliyeva is highly regarded by the citizens of Azerbaijan. Two of the most popular American first ladies, Nancy Reagan and Eleanor Roosevelt, were also beloved by many and were considered to be essential to their husband’s success as President. The experience of first ladies around the world is ever-changing and political experience is had in this position — some would argue at the same level as cabinet positions.
One of the most disturbing criticisms of First Vice-President Aliyeva is about her beauty. Is that supposed to be a disqualifier for political aptitude? Incongruously, there are also disparaging remarks about her personal choices with how she handles her entry into her 50s.
Such criticism is shallow to say the least and misogynist at worst. I do not believe that I have ever heard disapproval of male politicians for their good looks – was President John F. Kennedy reproached for being an attractive man? No, he was assessed based on his accomplishments and failures, not his appearance.
Regardless of intent, the United States has fallen behind in accepting female Vice-Presidents and successors to the President. First Vice-President Aliyeva has been deputy chair of the New Azerbaijan Party since 2013. She has been a member of parliament since 2005. She is a medical doctor, has a degree in philosophy, and is a mother and grandmother.
Her humanitarian contributions to her country and abroad illustrate her dedication to her people by improving their access to medical care and education. Frankly, in these uncertain times, I would be proud to call First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva my Vice-President, and can only hope that one day the U.S. will finally follow suit and accept women in this position as well.
Dr. Mallory Moss Katz is a commentator on women’s issues and psychiatry. She is a board-certified psychiatric nurse practitioner and doctorate in nursing. She is the co-founder of BabyNames.com and has a passion for onomastics, as well as community mental health, Eurasia, and the Chicago Cubs.
Mallory’s publications can be found in national and international publications and news services, including the Huffington Post, The Hill, and The Eurasian.