Behind the scenes of March 8

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March 8 is marked every year to celebrate the achievements of women. Mongolia is one of few countries that has declared the day a public holiday. On this day, countries also look at their progress on raising women’s social status, and ensuring equality between men and women. It is a great opportunity to praise the brave women who have made strong progress in this endeavor and recognize the ordinary women who have achieved extraordinary feats. Today, we are taking pride in our female soldiers who are serving in Sudan as United Nations peacekeepers. As Mongolia’s population increases, our economic growth is far from being sustainable, and the unemployment rate is not going down. We are seeing a rise in domestic violence and crimes while people are increasingly going abroad in search of jobs. The majority of victims of domestic violence are women and children, who sometimes end up losing their life. Although laws against domestic violence are getting tougher and we are seeing more government and non-government organizations working for the cause, the results are still not sufficient. Therefore, on International Women’s Day, we – as a society – should have discussions around domestic violence. In order to have a meaningful dialogue, we need to focus not on how the day is celebrated, but on what it means and what is happening behind the scenes. DOMESTIC VIOLENCE According to the General Police Department, 2010 saw 248 cases of domestic violence, where nine people died and 225 people were injured. These numbers have increased over the years, and there were 1,449 domestic violence cases in 2016, where 18 people died and 1,217 sustained injuries. This means that the number of people who have died and been injured as a result of domestic violence has increased five-fold within only six years. A total of 104 people lost their lives due to domestic violence in the last seven years. This number does not include suicides, and it is generally impossible to determine the exact number of domestic violence victims. During her Defacto Interview in October 2016, Head of the National Center Against Violence D.Enkhjargal said that 80 percent of the 104 people who died as a result of domestic violence were attempting to secure protection from law enforcement agencies until the day they died. This is an alarming signal, and it makes one wonder how many Mongolian mothers, sisters, and children are seeking protection on this day of celebration. Domestic violence is regarded as an issue exclusive to the private realm, and one that has aspects of confidentiality and privacy. Therefore, it is often likened to an iceberg, in the sense that you can only see the tip of the iceberg, but not the 90 percent that is beneath the water. Thus, the number of domestic violence cases could be ten times larger than the numbers mentioned before. It does not help that Mongolia has not had any dedicated initiatives at a national level to study domestic violence cases, the number of cases, and what causes domestic violence. Domestic violence does not only mean issues between spouses, but also affects thousands of male and female members of a family, children, and the elderly. Domestic violence against the elderly often has roots in economic struggles. It has become common for seniors to be pressured by their sons and daughters to acquire loans, using their pension as collateral. Or, they are asked to sell their property for money. Also, problems arise when the children of seniors are allowed to collect pensions from the bank. Furthermore, the concept of "living with a partner" has spread widely, which weakens the ownership rights and protections of unmarried people. When calculating how much ownership of shared property each partner has, they do not take into account the time women sacrifice to give birth and raise their children. It leaves women vulnerable. The women's rights organizations are emphasizing that our society still has the stipulation that women have to be tolerant of everything, trying to hide problems under what they are calling a "traditional value". COUNTERMEASURES Given the spread of domestic violence and its increasing number of victims, the government has been making attempts to improve the situation through laws and rules. In 2004, the parliament passed a law dedicated to combating domestic violence, yielding to demands from NGOs. However, it has been 10 years now and the law has not been in full effect because amendments to other laws have not been made. A month ago, a revised domestic violence law was passed, and it included approximately 10 critical changes. These changes include legal protection for victims, people having the duty to inform the police and other agencies about domestic violence, clearer responsibilities for the police, special protection services for children who are victims of domestic violence, and distinguishing between crimes and violations. Branches of the National Center Against Violence have been established in 16 provinces. These centers are operated in cooperation with the local governor. Police and doctors are available at the center to provide required services. Two provinces now have accommodations dedicated to offering protection from domestic violence. Japan’s Grassroots project and the United Nations Population Fund are providing financial and technical assistance to these centers. Hotlines such as 102 and 107 for the police and 108 for children and family centers are now available for victims and witnesses. An average of 3,000 victims of domestic violence contact the National Center Against Violence every year. With the purpose of protecting witnesses and victims, Mongolia established the Takhar Agency in 2013. However, the new government has recently abolished the organization to cut spending and declared that its functions would be governed by the police. These examples and statistics show that despite the various initiatives to stop domestic violence, their outcomes are not good enough. In order to combat domestic violence, many new initiatives need to be taken besides the ongoing activities. Where our work needs to start is with people's ideas about violence. Everyone needs to understand and acknowledge that conflicts are bound to arise when people from different backgrounds, education, or opinions are living together. The key is that such conflicts can and should be resolved peacefully, the most sensible and smartest step to take to end violence. We need to have arts, cultural, and educational activities focused on human and social relations, where violence is not acknowledged or tolerated. Given that the majority of violence cases trace back to economic roots, we need to take all measures to increase employment and increase the competitiveness of our private sector, so that income levels of vulnerable households increase. In short, we need to establish a brand new social relations paradigm to stop domestic violence. March 8 is a great opportunity for everyone to stop and think about this, recognize achievements, and identify what we are lacking. Countries are regarded as highly developed and happier when women enjoy freedom and are, of course, happy. Translated by B.Amar

Khash-Erdene Bayarsaikhan