A special report prepared in conjunction with the United Nations Economic and Social Commission on Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) on Mongolia’s progress toward UN Millennium Development Goal Three: gender equality and women’s empowerment.
Ranked of 110 out of 187 countries for 2011, it is now a medium-human development country. Yet the inequality-adjusted HDI, in use from 2010, registers a 14 percent loss in the HDI as a result of structural inequality. For all its economic gains,
Mongolia lags in three of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs): poverty reduction, environmental sustainability and gender equality, according to the UNDP country report for 2012-2016.
Gender equality and women’s empowerment— UN MDG goal three—uses the guidelines of political representation, education and economic earnings to help gage how countries are progressing. Statistics for Mongolia show that women tend to be more educated than men, according to the UNDP report for 2012-2016. Boys in the countryside are expected to work in the fields to help the family, while studying is prioritized for girls.
This trend extends into the university years, with more women in college (at 60-70 percent) than men. Yet, despite their more educated status, economically women are still at a disadvantage to men, earning less. Mongolian women also have had historically low political representation.
Before the 2012 elections, political representation for women was 3.9 percent, one of the lowest rates globally, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Owing to the newly-established quota system of 20 percent, nine women were voted into seats in parliament in June of this year—tripling women’s political representation to 12 percent. Though this current figure represents an improvement, in some ways it is a regaining of political power. Ten years ago representation was at 12 percent, but declining by 2008 to 3.9 percent. The MDG for gender equality has a benchmark of 30 percent representation for women in government. The global average is 19.7 percent.
Ten Years Ago
In comparing Mongolia’s current parliament to ten years prior—when there were also nine women MPs—recently elected MP Erdenechimeg of the Democratic Party (DP) said “It was always hard for women to come out (politically). 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 relayed the situation of MP Ts. Oyungerel of the DP, with a history of 16 years in public service and Democratic Party activist since 1991. “She was fighting for 20 years. The 2nd time and 3rd time [she ran for parliament], she lost but now, she won. This last election, I lost. Before [this election], I was working seven years in the countryside,” explained MP Erdenechimeg.
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 has five women in parliament, the highest number of any party.
After winning seats in the election, the nine women—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 decision to form the Caucus is based on consolidating a vision shared ideas and values—and as also a means of connecting with civil society, as reported to local media in a press conference at the end of July.
MP Erdenechimeg explains that although they come from different political parties, all of the Women’s Caucus members experienced difficulties in politics and can relate to each other as being “independent, fighting [for] women’s rights, children’s’ rights.”
Women’s Caucus Focus: Maternity Hospitals and Kindergartens
The Women’s Caucus decided to focus on the lack of maternity hospitals and kindergartens in the informal settlements called “ger districts” on the edges of Ulaanbaatar. This issue is also a problem in the countryside.
On the behalf of the Caucus, MP Erdenechimeg visited all the maternity hospitals in Ulaanbaatar to research this issue once it was indentified and agreed on. With previous experience in the health sector—MP Erdenechimeg owns one of the largest pharmaceutical industry outlets in Mongolia—she feels she understands problems women in the peri-urban areas face in terms of infrastructure. As MP, she represents the Songinokhairkhan district, west of the capital. According to her, this district is very large with 280,000 people, of which about 80 percent of the district lives in gers. The district has only one hospital with 75 beds for over a quarter million people. When she was previously pregnant and due to give birth, she went to the hospital only to be turned away and told to go home for four or five hours as there were no beds then. She notes that half the women that come to the hospital in this district are turned away. According to the MP, maternal health for Mongolia use to be poor but in the last ten years, this problem has decreased as the technology has gotten better. In the “soums”—sub-areas of provinces, the technology is still poor but each aimag (province) has a hospital with more appropriate technology. Yet with Mongolia’s expanding population due to migration, this is an urgent issue in Ulaanbaatar in ger districts, including the Bayanzurkh district in the east which is also large.
Kindergartens in the outer districts of Ulaanbaatar are over-capacity as well. Only half of the children in ger districts are able to be registered, according to MP Erdenechimeg. Parents have to sleep outside the night before registration to secure a place for their children. The half that cannot be registered run in the street according to her and their mothers must stay at home to watch them, which cuts the household income down to half of what it could be, impacting women’s economic freedom. She notes that 40 percent of Mongolians are at risk of not being able to go to school because of these infrastructure problems and this urgently needs to be addressed. The funding estimated to cover this is 400 billion to create new schools.
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 kindergartens. They put their children in private kindergartens so they don’t see the problem,” said MP Erdenechimeg.
She notes, traditionally men focus on what are considered “big” issues, like mining and infrastructure. For instance, last year 21,000 MNT was allotted per person from mining funds, which came to 800 billion MNT. Because it was deemed an important issue, the funding was approved. However, she noticed that many men—even the President, are now talking about the schooling problem as it has gotten some air time on TV. MP Erdenechimeg visited more than 30 kindergartens in late August. August 25th was registration day.
Gender Equality and “Women’s Work”
Men’s professional presence in education and health has been historically low. MP Erdenechimeg explained that about 80 percent of teachers are women, while 80 percent of doctors are women. The pay in both sectors is low. She explained that men say being a doctor is a “woman’s job,” just as teaching is also seen as women’s work. She sees this as a cultural issue and thinks there needs to be governmental investment for this perception to change. If 10 or 20 percent more men move into the sectors, there could potentially be greater investment, according to Erdenechimeg.
MP Oyungeral agreed, noting that the pay for men and women is the same for the same job, but that many women tend to hold lower-paid positions. Despite the greater representation of women in professional fields such as health and education, there is a lack of political representation which translates to a lack of, as MP Oyungerel explained, “planning, policy and the police force.” Women’s concerns are not adequately represented when laws are created and implemented.
The National Law on Gender Equality, established in February of 2011, will be implemented in January of 2013. This law will also address the lack of representation of men in both education and health. A quota will be established of 30 percent 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, according to MP Erdenechimeg.
Undarya Tumursukh, National Coordinator for MONFEMNET which is an umbrella organization of NGOs dedicated to gender equality and human rights, explained “Many people have little understanding of gender equality. 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. 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 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.”
Otgonbaatar Tsedendemberel, Executive Director of the LGBT Centre NGO agreed that gender is often misunderstood. “As for the Gender Equality Law, I think that the law enforcement is a key problem. People’s understanding of gender issues at all levels, be it law enforcement officials or general public, is almost non-existent. 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.”
In September, the UNFPA will sponsor a forum for gender equality with MONFEMNET and the National Committee on Gender Equality. The new law will be advertised in local media to educate the public.
Corruption and Change
“All nine women felt that the Mongolian political system is too corrupt,” Erdenechimeg said. Previous of her parliament position, she worked full time as a business woman within the pharmaceutical industry. She says paying bribes is common for doing business in Mongolia. She resisted this system and felt that it limited her business’s growth. Because of her awareness of this, she understands that small businesses have a hard time succeeding. This corruption is part of the educational system as well. She said, “If you cannot get a seat [for your child] in kindergarten, you pay.”
Khangal, a local business seller with young children, agreed. She expressed her happiness that women were elected to parliament and also wants them to support private business people because it is “so expensive” to operate a business in the country. She also agreed on the corruption in registering her children in school. “Parents who want to register their children must pay a bribe.” For this idea, she “praises the Caucus. It’s really necessary for Mongolians.” Of the hospital issue, “It’s not just maternity hospitals, all hospitals lack services.” She also wants the Caucus to support female heads of household as when a couple divorces, “they do most of the support—men don’t.”
Another woman, a grandmother with her grandchild, applauded the Caucus. She had supported a few of the women who got elected. “I think they are starting from a really good place. There are lots of vulnerable families. I lost my husband two years ago and live with my daughter. It’s really hard to enroll kids in school and buy commodities.” She wants politicians to be involved in “real life” and to be close to citizens—that is why she voted for women.
Zola Batkhuyag, General Coordinator for Young Women for Change, an NGO, said. “I really appreciate the group—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 is an urgent issue.” Like the other women, she too feels hopeful of the new parliament with more women. “Yeah, especially the new government, new parliament—it’s getting better. Legislation and civic education [are better]. Corruption is more deeply hidden, people waiting for mining cash [is worse].”
The agents of change, the female MPs, seem as much affected by quota for women in parliament as their constituents are. Forming the Caucus not only furthers the goals of their constituents, but to amplifies their own power as well.
The UNIFEM resource guidebook, Making the MDGs Work for All, notes that gender equality is paramount to making progress in all the MDGs. This becomes apparent with the kindergarten registration and maternity hospital issues. Without adequate political will, progress and funding for these key areas of infrastructure are limited
MP Erdenechimeg said, “This is an important time for women in politics as there are now three ministers and nine MPs who are women.” This is also an important time for women in Mongolia, as the country develops at a rapid pace. Development should reflect the needs of its women.
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