By Oyuntuya Shagdarsuren
At a glance, Mongolia may seem like a ‘paradise for men’ given the high status of men or a ‘paradise for women’ given the country’s high rankings on human development indices. Yet, the gender equality situation remains a mystery that requires an exploration into a complex set of considerations. This post briefly investigates the un/changing notions around gender roles and gender equality in Mongolia with a focus on public administration.
Un/changing roles of women and men in Mongolian society
Given the nomadic pastoralist background of Mongolian people, women have been traditionally seen as mothers and wives and men as heads of households with the leadership and decision-making roles both within the family and in social life. After the transition to market economy in the early 1990s, women in Mongolia have taken over some of the breadwinning roles and gained more decision-making power within their household. In a 2001 study, women reported that they didn’t want to depend on their husbands and emphasized independence. They placed importance in increasing their education and finding their status in life before creating a family (Batjargal 2006). Mongolia’s current reverse gender gap in the education sector makes it one of the few, distinct countries in the world where males are less educated than females and the young generation of the postsocialist period is less educated than their parents (Steiner-Khamsi and Stolpe 2006). However, men have always outnumbered women in decision-making positions across public service as well as in business and politics. Mongolian feminist activist Undarya Tumursukh (2018) argues that the post-socialist period and transition to neoliberal market economy has lowered living standards and the status of women because women were forced out of politics with the arrival of democracy.
Government policy on gender equality and gender mainstreaming
The government of Mongolia has undertaken mandatory duties to promote gender equality through internationally agreed documents such as the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979), the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995) and the UN Economic and Social Council’s agreed conclusions on gender mainstreaming (1997) committing to take action to eliminate any (public or private) behaviour that is based on the inferiority of women and superiority of men. In other words, the Mongolian state has devoted to look into its gender-based power structures and eliminate the root causes of gender inequalities. One of the main ways to achieve this is by adopting a gender mainstreaming policy which is commonly understood as “integrating a gender perspective into all areas of policy and decision-making” (UNDP 2007, 4). Gender mainstreaming (jyenderiin medremjtei bodlogo, tölövlölt) is believed to have a transformative effect by changing attitudes in the public and private institutions and structures towards greater equality between men and women, boys and girls.
The Law on Promotion of Gender Equality (LPGE) was enacted in 2011 and mandates the principle that the state is responsible for ensuring equality of men and women and that the laws and state policies, programmes, plans and projects should include gender concepts (Art. 5.1.3 and 5.1.4). As a result, a Gender Consortium (Jyenderiin konsortsium) and a National Gender Experts’ Group (Jyenderiin ündesnii shinjeechdiin buleg) were created to carry out gender analysis and to provide training and education. The national statistical office started generating sex disaggregated data on 49 indicators which are available online (UN 2016). An active operational structure exists that consists of branch gender councils (Jyenderiin salbar zövlöl) based at 13 ministries, 31 branch gender committees based at 21 aimags and 9 districts of Ulaanbaatar which receive guidance from the National Committee on Gender Equality (NCGE). The NCGE supports the development of gender strategies for all sectors of Mongolia. So far, gender strategies have been developed in the environmental (2014), finance (2016), construction and urban development (2017), education, culture, science and sports (2017), population, labor and social welfare (2018), food, agriculture and light industry (2018), geology, mining, petroleum and heavy industry (2019) sectors. All 21 provinces have adopted gender equality sub-programs.
Implementing gender mainstreaming through MERIT Project
One of the major donors supporting gender equality initiatives in Mongolia is Global Affairs Canada. Its flagship project named “Mongolia: Enhancing Resource Management through Institutional Transformation” (MERIT) is being implemented since 2016 with an aim to stimulate sustainable economic growth in Mongolia by strengthening the capacity of public institutions and local communities to effectively manage the resource sector.
By engaging in gender analysis and training on gender mainstreaming concepts and methodologies, key partners from the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET), Ministry of Mining and Heavy Industry (MMHI), the Mongolian University of Science and Technology, the Institute of Geography and Geo-ecology of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences and the Governor’s Offices in Dornod, Sükhbaatar, Töv and Dundgovi provinces recognized the importance of gender mainstreaming in their work and started integration of gender concepts into their policy and technical documents and organizational workplans. A series of Public Sector Leadership Symposiums co-organized with the Institute of Public Administration of Canada (IPAC) trained directors, managers and senior officers from partnering organizations on introducing flat organizational models and human-centred design in the public sector.
The Leadership Symposiums opened doors for the decision-making personnel to start making important changes. One was to establish a Gender Community of Practice in March 2018 with an aim to enhance skills and knowledge of civil servants on gender mainstreaming. Subsequently, Dornod aimag organized a public sector management conference engaging 700 local civil servants and messages were delivered about gender-sensitive planning and reporting in March 2019. The Aimag Governor is actively working to develop women- and youth-owned start-up businesses. The province recently announced an anti-alcohol campaign while establishing a health clinic for men. Governor of Töv Aimag issued a decision in April 2019 regarding a “Family Day” to support parents working in civil service. Schools and kindergartens were advised to organize school-parent meetings on the first Friday of each month to align with civil servants’ work schedule to allow for more family engagement. Moreover, civil servants were given a paid one-hour leave between 5.00-6.00pm every month to attend their children’s school-parent meeting. Dundgovi Aimag Governor showed leadership and commitment by financing a gender situational analysis from the local budget in 2018 whereas most of the provinces received a central government or donor funding for this work. Sükhbaatar aimag’s male gender focal point is actively reaching out and working with planning and M&E officers to train civil servants at soum level on basic concepts of gender and gender-sensitive planning and reporting. The partner ministries at central government are equally active. A senior officer of strategic policy planning at MMHI used a results-based and a gender-sensitive approach when developing the implementation plan of the new petroleum policy. She developed gender indicators that serve as a model for a gender-sensitive, technical planning document. The management team at the MET has completed a six-months-long “Leadership and Gender” training program with 50 percent female representatives. Overall, an opportune moment is arising in Mongolia to advance the women’s status and promote greater equality among women and men.
About Oyuntuya Shagdarsuren
Oyuntuya Shagdarsuren is a PhD candidate at the Center for Development Research (ZEF) and the Department of Mongolian and Tibetan Studies, University of Bonn, Germany. She is also a Visiting International Research Student at University of British Columbia, Canada and a Senior Advisor with MERIT Project.