Scalable progress for women now moving swiftly in Mongolia

Michelle Tolson – WNN Improve It

Female line in one family in the Alag Tsar Valley, Khovsgol, Mongolia
The female line in one family in the Alag Tsar Valley in Khovsgol, Mongolia shows a strong and proud heritage in the girls and women who help each other every day. Women in the region and throughout Mongolia have continuing needs for better education, career training and opportunity. But they have now also begun to publicly step into greater degrees of empowerment as they take more public responsibility for guiding their society . More people in Mongolian society today are demanding that women become equals to men on all levels. Image: Emilia Tjernström

(WNN/UBP) Ulaanbaatar, MONGOLIA: Thanks to the vast mineral wealth inside the region, Mongolia is now showing progress toward the reduction of poverty nationwide. 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 requiring 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 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. Poverty, young marriage and lack of higher education for women in the region is a major challenge. Those in leadership positions within the region, who are now able to sit at decision-making tables, are still lower than world averages.

The global average for women in governments worldwide is currently 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.

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