The Struggle for Gender Equality in Mongolia

In September, the UNFPA – United Nations Population Fund – sponsored a forum for gender equality in Mongolia with MONFEMNET along with the National Committee on Gender Equality. Susan Bazilli, IWRP, was one of the speakers at the forum on national gender machinery and the gender equality law, seen here with Undarya Tumursukh and Jama Dugersuren.

“Many people have little understanding of gender equality,” says Ms. Undarya Tumursukh, the National Coordinator for FEMNET Mongolia (MONFEMNET), an organization dedicated to bring equality to women worldwide.
“That women constitute a larger percentage among teachers does not necessarily amount to women having dominance in the sector – but that is how it is often said,” she added. “Are male teachers losing out by not being teachers? No. Are women? Often yes, as this is a very underpaid sector if we look at kindergarten and secondary school teachers. Still, as ranks go up, there are more men. In the lowest paid – mostly [are] women. But of course balance would be good, it is better to have gender parity among teachers, as that may help improve situation in the sector – men are more likely to raise [their] voice about low salaries while it is easier to exploit women due to cultural conditions. So if more men come in, perhaps teachers’ advocacy for better conditions will grow stronger, but it is not an automatic process,” Tumursukh continued.

Otgonbaatar Tsedendemberel, Executive Director of the LGBT Centre, an organization inside Mongolia that is dedicated to watching over human rights for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered people in the region, agrees that gender in Mongolia is often misunderstood. “As for the Gender Equality Law, I think that the law enforcement is a key problem,” stresses Tsendendemberel. “People’s understanding of gender issues at all levels, be it law enforcement officials or [the] general public, is almost non-existent,” she added. “In Mongolia , the term ‘gender’ itself is relatively new and there was so much opposition in the Parliament when the law was lobbied and passed. When it comes to gender issues, people usually think that it is only a women’s issue.”

Men, as well as women and their children, throughout Mongolia are now inline to receive a boost from the Mongolian economy because of this, but other sectors inside the nation still need improvement.
Mongolia ’s Human Development Index (HDI), a metric that takes into account health, education and living standards in the region, recently showed figures that rose at the fastest pace globally recorded from 2000-2010. Ranked 110 out of 187 countries for 2011, Mongolia is now no longer considered a ‘low on the list’ human development country. It has now risen to the ranks from low to ‘medium’ with global human development benchmarks because of the rise in the region’s economy.

But according to the latest country report from the UNDP – United Nations Development Programme, inequality in the region is holding back some of the progress that can be made. When ‘inequality’ is placed as an indicator inside the country’s Human Development Index, Mongolia shows a 14 percent loss as gender equality, environmental sustainability and the work to successfully reach the UN Millennium Development Goals drops. Figures for Mongolia with gender equality has actually dropped inside the region from 2000-2010.
Empowering women in the region may be a complex issue but advocates are working to do just that. While gender equality can be mapped through UN Millennium Goal number 3 through women in politics, women’s education and women’s economic earnings, statistics show that women have now begun to receive more education than their male counterparts in the region. Today the push to educate women and girls is on as male members of the family are often expected to work in the fields instead of staying in school. Women, on the other hand, are now going to college 60-70 percent more than men.

But women are still at a disadvantage in the region. Why?
In spite of increases in education, Mongolian women are still earning much less than their male counterparts. They have also had historically an unsteady and low political representation inside the region. But the open room for women in politics is now changing for the better.
Before recent 2012 elections, political representation for women in Mongolia was 3.9 percent, one of the lowest rates for women in politics charted globally, outlines the Mongolian Inter-Parliamentary Union. Owing to a newly-established quota system in the region that is now requireing 20 percent of the Parliament to be women, 9 women from a diverse group of political parties were voted into seats in Mongolia ’s Parliament in June this year.
This suddenly tripled women’s political leadership with participation in Mongolia from 4 to 12 percent. Though this current figure represents an improvement, in some ways it is a ‘regaining of political power’ for women in the region.
Women as political representatives for their region was also 12 percent 10 years ago, but the numbers of women in office sharply declined by 2008 to 3.9 percent. To reach the Millennium Development Goals for gender equality, 30 percent of the Mongolian government must be made up of women decision makers in government.
“Women politicians clearly made important gains,” outlined the Asia Pacific Memo, published by the Institute of Asian Research at the University of British Columbia in July 2012, as they analyzed the outcome of Mongolia ’s recent election. The UN Millennium Development Goal to empower women is not an easy one though. The current global average for women in government is now only 19.7 percent.

Ten Years Ago in Mongolia
“It was always hard for women to come out [politically],” reminds newly elected woman Member of Parliament (MP) Ms. Luvsan Erdenechimeg of the Democratic Party in Mongolia . “Men would say ‘Nine women is a nightmare!’ It was not so good then for women — we were dependent on men. [Now] we are more independent, we can say everything. We can have our own ideas and plans. Before, we were like satellites,” she continued.
Sharing the years of struggle and experience with MP Ms. Tsedevdamba Oyungerel, who is also from Mongolia ’s Democratic Party, Erdenechimeg charted the tenacity and efforts of women in public office and human rights activism. “She [Oyungerel] was fighting for 20 years. The 2nd time and 3rd time she lost [a Parliament bid] but now, she won,” outlined Erdenechimeg who lost her own bid for the Parliament, before the most recent vote pushed her in.
MP Oyungerel agreed. “Oh, it’s improved a lot. The mentality of the people has improved. Before it was, ‘what are you doing in politics?’ You were a helper only, but now you are seen as a decision maker, especially in my party.”
The Democratic Party in Mongolia now has 5 women in parliament, the highest number of any political party in the region.
After winning Parliamentary seats in the most recent Mongolian election, the 9 women winners, who are representing the Democratic Party, Mongolian People’s Party, Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party and the Civil Will Green Party, decided to form an informal political group called the Women’s Caucus in late July. MP Erdenechimeg was chosen as the representative for the first year.
The women’s decision to form the Caucus is based on consolidating a vision of shared ideas and values, and also as a means of connecting with civil society, said the Caucus during a recent press conference in late July 2012.
MP Erdenechimeg explained that although they come from different political parties, all members of the Women’s Caucus did experience difficulties in politics and can relate to each other as being “independent, fighting [for] women’s rights, children’s’ rights.”
The issues the women MPs are now hoping to improve as they dive into action include: creating more public hospitals that can serve women and their families, expanding educational programs by building new schools, helping to bring greater economic success and freedom to women and tightening down on political corruption inside Mongolia.

The New Women’s Caucus
On the behalf of the Women’s Caucus, MP Erdenechimeg visited all the maternity hospitals in her region in Ulaanbaatar to research the needs. Erdenechimeg’s district surprisingly has only one hospital with 75 beds, which serves the health needs for over a quarter million people. When Erdenechimeg herself was pregnant and went into maternal labour she went to the hospital in Ulaanbaatar , only to be turned away and told to go home for four or five hours as there were no hospital beds available.
Today it is estimated that half the women that come to the hospital in Erdenechimeg’s district are turned away when they need medical attention the most, at the moment they are due to deliver their baby. Although improvements are being made throughout the region through the increased use of medical technology a deepening concern for Mongolia’s expanding population, due to immigration, is what MP Erdenechimeg conveys is ‘an urgent’ issue.

Member of Parliament Ms. Luvsan Erdenechimeg is interviewed about her ideas for solutions in the region on local television. Her views and the views of the new Mongolian Women’s Caucus are working now to improve society in addition to women’s empowerment and equality in the region. Image: NDTV-youtube
Kindergarten classrooms in the outer districts of Ulaanbaatar are over-capacity as well. Only half the children in the regional districts are able to have their place saved, according to MP Erdenechimeg. Parents have to sleep outside the night before school registration day begins to secure a place for their children. Those children who cannot be registered force mothers to stay at home, which cuts the household income down to half of what it could be, impacting women’s economic freedom, outlines MP Erdenechimeg. 40 percent of Mongolians are at risk of not being able to go to school because of these infrastructure problems, said Erdenchimeg as she outlines the urgent need for this condition to be addressed.
When asked why this issue was not addressed by the previous parliaments, the MP stated that it is not considered ‘a man’s issue.’ “Male MPs don’t spend time around these [public] kindergartens,” conveyed MP Erdenechimeg. “They put their children in private kindergartens so they don’t see the problem.” Traditionally men focus on what are considered ‘the big issues,’ like mining and national infrastructure.
Last year 21,000 MNT ($15.40 USD) was allotted per person from Mongolia ’s national mining funds which came to a total of 800 billion MNT ($5,981,308 USD). Because it was deemed an important issue the funding was approved. However Erdenechimeg notes that many men in Mongolia , even the President, are now also talking about the need for more schools as it has gotten some recent air time on TV.
In late August 2012 MP Erdenechimeg visited more than 30 kindergartens to help assess the needs in the region.

Gender Equality and ‘Women’s Work’
While many of the job positions do pay men and women equally for the same job, many women tend to hold lower-paid positions outlined MP Oyungeral. Where less men and more women are generally involved in a specific career in Mongolia , that career is often lower paying. Despite the greater representation of women in professional fields such as health and education, there has been a lack of political representation for women in Mongolia which MP Oyungerel explains causes a lack in, “planning, policy and the police force.” Women’s concerns are not adequately represented when laws are created and implemented, she continued to outline as part of the Women’s Caucus.
The National Law on Gender Equality in Mongolia , established in February of 2011, will be implemented in January of 2013. This law will address the lack of men in both education and health careers in the region. To battle this, a quota will be established through the law of 30 percent men to address this “reverse gender gap,” said MP Oyungerel.
Having more men in the two sectors could possibly help raise the salaries as men’s participation has been low and funding has as well, pointed out MP Erdenechimeg.

Moving Away from Corruption
“All nine women [Parliamentarians] felt that the Mongolian political system is too corrupt,” stressed MP Erdenechimeg. Paying bribes is common for those doing business in Mongolia , she outlined. This corruption is not only in business. It is also part of the educational system as well, conveyed Erdenechimeg, “If you cannot get a seat [for your child] in kindergarten, you pay,” she outlined.

Khangal, a local woman business retailer that sells products for young children agrees. She is happy that more women were elected to Mongolia ’s Parliament. As a small business person herself, Khangal also wants to see legislators work to help private business people because it is “so expensive” to operate a business in the country.
Agreeing with the others that corruption in Mongolia does exist Khangal outlined, “Parents who want to register their children must pay a bribe.” Praising the Women’s Caucus Khangal wants to also make sure the new Women’s Caucus supports ‘female only’ heads-of-household. Especially as a couple divorces: “They [women] do most of the support — men don’t,” added Khangal.
“I think they [the Women’s Caucus] are starting from a really good place,” said a Mongolian grandmother, who did not give her name, and who also helped vote women into Mongolia ’s Parliament this year. She is currently also the major caretaker for her grandchild as her daughter goes to work. “There are lots of vulnerable families,” continues the grandmother. “I lost my husband two years ago and live with my daughter. It’s really hard to enroll kids in school and buy commodities.”
“I really appreciate the group…,” says Zola Batkhuyag, General Coordinator for Young Women for Change in Mongolia as she outlined her reasons for voting for the women. “…they are from different parties but they have shared values and needs as women. It’s about sexual and reproductive health and rights. The kindergarten [new schools] is an urgent issue.”
Like the other women, Batkhuyag too feels hopeful that Mongolia ’s new 2012 parliament will improve with more women.
As agents of change the female MPs seem as much affected by quotas for women in parliament as their constituents are. Forming the Women’s Caucus not only furthers the goals of their constituents, but also amplifies their own power as women as well.
“This is an important time for women in politics as there are now three ministers and nine MPs who are women,” outlined Mongolian Member of Parliament Ms. Luvsan Erdenechimeg.