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The state of women’s rights in Mongolia

By Helen Wright

As the annual national celebration Women’s Day takes place tomorrow, the UB Post has looked at the state of women’s rights in Mongolia and spoken to some of the people who are trying to make the country a more equal place.
Historically, pre-20th century, due to women’s key involvement in keeping livestock “few among the elite enjoyed more rights and privileges than their counterparts in other East Asian lands”, says a report for the Asia Society.
However, this status was a double edged sword and most women had harder workloads than men due to the assumption that a woman should also take care of their children and the home on top of her other duties. “They not only had domestic duties but also assisted in tending animals, milking sheep and goats, producing dairy products, shearing wool, and tanning hides. They could manage the herds on their own, permitting total male mobilization for hunts or warfare”.
Under the Soviet Union, from 1921 to 1990, women often benefited from government policies, which in theory guaranteed equality in education, the workplace, and the political system. By the late 1980s, most women had entered the labor force in sectors such as education and medicine. But a “glass ceiling” frequently prevented promotion to leadership at work or in the profession.
Today, at 51.3 percent of the population, there are more women in Mongolia than there are men, and they have an average life expectancy of 75 years – around four-and-a-half years longer than men, according to a UN report published in 2014.
While gender equality is enshrined in the law, and work place equality is supposed to be guaranteed, women still face an array of problems that show the playing field has not been completely leveled.
“Domestic violence remained a serious and widespread problem,” a report published by the United States Department of State last year says. Although hopefully new laws being brought into force in September will help tackle some of these problems, which include, amongst others, the introduction of restraining orders.
In addition, a United Nations Development Program report noted that women are paid less than men, and do around 25 hours per week of household chores.
Adding to these difficulties, the Asia Society noted “is the substantial increase in female-headed households, which is, in large part, due to male unemployment and the resulting high rate of alcoholism, crime, and domestic abuse. Faced with these difficulties, an increasing number of women have divorced unstable husbands or have opted to have children without marriage. However, female-headed households have been vulnerable and constitute a large segment of those living below the poverty line.”
But there is hope for the future. Several women have held top posts in the government and today, more than 70 percent of students at university are women, according to the Asia Society report. This means that in the future more women will be available to take on some of Mongolia’s most important roles and jobs, pushing gender equality to the forefront.
The UB Post spoke to some of the women who are standing up for the rights of women in Mongolia. Some were positive the country is moving in the right direction, but all agreed that more needed to be done to protect women’s rights.

MP Ts.Oyungerel says no violators should be allowed in government

Sitting in her office in the State Palace, the former Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism, having just rushed back from an emergency session, told the UB Post that more women needed to be in positions of political power.
“We should be bringing more women into decision making roles so they [the government] can consider the views of women’s needs and have balanced politics, decisions and budget distribution,” she said.
Ts.Oyungerel went on to say that she was concerned about gender-based violence in the country, especially in the workplace, and that more should be done to stamp it out.
Speaking passionately, she said, “Workplace gender based violence is getting worse and is increasing and I am especially worried about that – sexual harassment, rape, bullying, that is what I mean.
“These things are happening especially with the government workers and in those roles.
“Both parties created this bullying, non gender sensitive, local level governments. And they must think seriously about not promoting people who have violated human rights: bullies and people who have committed gender-based crimes.
“No violators should be allowed to be in government office anymore and every party should change their policy so that no such violation can happen in a government office.
“If the government office openly violates women’s rights, who is going to protect women? It will spread everywhere. It will be promoted in business and in the family, and domestic violence will surge.
“So we should never tolerate any government officials using force against women in any level of government, that is why I am speaking up very strongly against this.
“Many women, and not only women, many men are too, but there should be a culture inside the government, and out, not to use force or to be violators of human rights, especially women’s.”

National Campaign Against Violence program manager S.Baigalmaa

In the first floor office at the National Campaign Against Violence (NCAV), program manager S.Baigalmaa tells me about her organization, which is on the frontlines when it comes to helping women who have suffered from sexual or domestic violence.
The organization runs safe houses, a phone line, advice and counseling to women who are living with or fleeing domestic violence. In total, they see around 1,700 women each year.
The UB Post asked what more should be done to help women.
S.Baigalmaa, speaking through a translator, says, “There must be a big community awareness. There must be more attention to prevention of domestic violence and people must know how to be safe and what we can do is provide the services to help them.”
She also had some praise for the government, saying, “There is some good work being done, the new legal system and the shelter house built in 2014 are good steps forward. There is progress but it is not good enough and we need more work from the government on this issue.”
She went on to say, “First of all, the government needs to increase the capabilities of officials who work in these fields. Like police etc… They have to know how to work in these special cases and also they have some negative attitudes towards domestic violence, they still don’t know what it is and how to provide services. So they have to start offering more training to their officers.
“And in terms of working with perpetrators, we don’t have the opportunity to do that. The victims want real protection and for us to do something with the perpetrator. But in reality, we don’t have services of programs of working with them so it’s in the hands of the police and government agencies.
“NCAV holds the government accountable for this, making sure they keep women and children safe.
“And another thing is if the government can’t provide shelter housing to all those women and children, they have to support them financially through NGOs, or make contacts so NGOs can do it. They need a bigger budget on domestic violence and service delivery. There must be a comprehensive policy and procedures.”

Chairperson of NGO Beautiful Hearts A.Khongorzul

Chairperson of Ulaanbaatar-based Beautiful Hearts NGO A.Khongorzul agreed with the NCAV and MP Oyungerel that more needs to be done to protect women’s rights. But added that NGOs and charities do work “tirelessly” to improve the state of women’s rights throughout the country.
The NGO works with women who have been abused, and also strives to protect and advance the rights of women and children.
Replying to questions via email as she is currently studying at university in the UK, A.Khongorzul said, “Over the years women’s participation in public life has gradually increased, we’re slowly starting to take part in the development process. We are holding the government accountable and our access to decision makers has increased.
“People are getting empowered in a sense that young women and youth participation has increased. Stronger civil society organizations are really pushing hard and continuously raising awareness and advocating for women’s empowerment and rights.
“However, more needs to be done. Women need to play a bigger part in politics and they need to have a stronger voice. Violence against women is still high and the public needs to understand that it is never OK to abuse or violate women.
“The general public should learn about responsibility for their community. For example if you hear that your neighbor is experiencing domestic violence, instead of staying silent, you should break the silence and tell someone.
“Do not encourage your daughters to be in abusive relationships and do not encourage your sons to abuse others. Men’s behavior needs to change and the programs for this should be strengthened.”
Speaking about what needs to change in society to make it a fairer place for women, she said, “Patriarchal culture has to be eliminated in order to reach gender equality. Without elimination of the public patriarchal mentality nothing will change, therefore, we need to start from a young age.
“It is about how we raise our children, both boys and girls. Masculinity and femininity, identity needs to be taught at a young age. It starts from what kinds of toys we buy for our kids. It is about how we discipline our kids. A positive discipline approach needs be acquired.
“Children who grew up in a full loving environment will never abuse other human beings. Also, children’s participation both at home and in institutions like kindergartens, schools and etc need to improve.
“We need to reach out women in remote areas, in the ger districts and the countryside where access to information is lacking. At the same time, women in urban areas, especially women who have the ability to access information need to know how to get the correct information.”
She added, “If women’s rights are protected and promoted, children will live in a safe and secure environment and home.”

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