UNICEF works with young people to equip them with a range of skills.
Azerbaijan has a young population, with nearly 1 in 3 people between the ages of 14 and 29. But all too frequently its youth – especially girls, young people with disabilities, those who are internally displaced or are from poor families and communities – don’t receive the support and skills needed to maximize their potential as they grow into adulthood.
UNICEF works with youth workers, teachers, counsellors, mentors and sports coaches across the country not only to facilitate young people’s participation in education, sports and recreation, but to equip youngsters with a range of skills to enable them to play a full role in their communities. Creating an enabling environment for learning and developing skills can help reduce unemployment, poverty and challenging behaviours that in turn can stifle economic and social growth and place increased pressure on public services and expenditures.
Promoting greater inclusion and opportunities for marginalized young people is a priority for UNICEF. For example, we have partnered with the Association of Football Federations of Azerbaijan (AFFA) and the National Paralympic Committee to implement public engagement campaigns that promote positive perceptions of girls, young people with disabilities, and other groups that are often socially excluded and marginalised.
Since 2018 UNICEF-supported youth houses have helped more than 1,200 adolescents benefit from basic life skills courses, reproductive health education, knowledge on the prevention of gender-based violence, psychological and legal counselling and access to participation in sports – especially for marginalized youth, girls and young people with disabilities.
UNICEF, assigned as one of the lead UN agencies for youth development in Azerbaijan, is supporting the ongoing transformation of the national network of youth houses across the country by modelling services that will equip young people with some of the skills needed to improve their prospects in adulthood. Youth houses provide a valuable one-stop resource for sharing information, delivering services, and supporting outreach and referral efforts both to identify vulnerable young people and connect them with further support.
Sport for All
As part of its efforts to promote inclusion and opportunities for vulnerable young people, UNICEF has guided the development of the Children`s Paralympic Movement in Azerbaijan, through the National Paralympic Committee, to support healthy development and social integration of children and young people with disabilities into the society through the power of sport.
As a result, several advocacy and capacity building campaigns on disability, stigma reduction, adapted physical activity, non-violence in sport and improving accessibility in the capital were conducted with partners, including the National Paralympic Committee, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Youth and Sport, academia, international and national NGOs; and the system of annual National Paralympic Games was introduced.
In addition to the social inclusion of young athletes, the initiative helps to tackle negative stereotypes and stigma associated with disability in Azerbaijan, and a series of social media videos stories were produced by UNICEF, featuring parents of children with disabilities who supported their children in the Paralympic Games as champions of social inclusion.
In 2018 the number of participants in the Children`s Paralympic Games increased from 40 to 190, compared to 2015. Children and adolescents with disabilities competed in seven different sports including boccia, goalball, swimming, judo, table tennis, taekwondo and athletics.
Children Paralympic Games videos:
In a poll of adolescents in Azerbaijan, who were participants of a National Consultation on Safe and Inclusive Sport, 53 per cent of them said that girls continue to experience multiple forms of discrimination; discrimination that prevents them from enjoying the same opportunities for participation in sports as their male peers.
There are still many girls who are not fully enjoying their right to safe and inclusive sport. Gender norms and stereotypes about what a girl can and cannot do play a big part in this exclusion. But there are also less obvious , but equally impactful reasons, such as not being allowed to practice sports when female instructors aren’t present. Or even teachers and coaches not knowing how to include the girls.
UNICEF sees girls’ equal participation in sports as a step towards upholding their rights. As part of the joint UN-Government Youth House initiative, with support from the Government of the Netherlands and in partnership with the Association of Football Federations of Azerbaijan (AFFA), all-girls football teams were established. Along with the help of the Binagadi and Mingechevir Youth Houses a total of 40 girls enrolled, including girls from low income, migrant, and internally displaced families.
“Many of the girls on our team are from vulnerable families and of very poor status,” explains Ilgar Huseynov, coach of the Mingechevir all-girls’ football team. “Some are from orphanages or have been sent to boarding schools because their parents can’t take care of them. My intention was to attract them to the game of football and to have them play under the flag of Azerbaijan – instilling in them goals and a purpose in their life.”
UNICEF and AFFA have worked together to promote girls’ development and empowerment, including through education, and inclusive and equitable sports programmes starting from 2011. Through this partnership, a nation-wide campaign on girls' empowerment Girls Can campaign was launched in 2017 on International Day of the Girl Child. Through powerful videos showcasing girls in different spheres, the campaign reached a wider audience.