Reviewing gender equality in Mongolia

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Mongolia marked International Women’s Day on March 8 without any public activities due to the government's decision to ban public activities. The commemoration of International Women's Day ranges from being a grand public holiday in some countries, including Mongolia and Russia, to being largely ignored elsewhere. In some countries, it is a day of protest. In others, it is a day that celebrates womanhood. But the main point of International Women's Day is to promote women’s rights and participation.

As of 2019, Mongolia had 1,618,200 women, 4.3 percent of whom head their family and 54 percent actively took part in elections. One in five women had higher education and most mothers gave birth to two or three children. The average life expectancy of Mongolian women is 76, according to the National Statistics Office of Mongolia.

The biggest challenge facing women in Mongolia is gender inequality. Many individuals, groups, nonprofit organizations, and the government are taking action to promote women’s rights. But it’s questionable whether Mongolian women are able to enjoy their full right, equal opportunity, and treatment.

Many people believe that gender equality for women means being better or having more opportunities and rights than men. Actually, it means having equal rights and opportunities. UNICEF says gender equality "means that women and men, and girls and boys, enjoy the same rights, resources, opportunities, and protections. It does not require that girls and boys, or women and men, be the same, or that they are treated exactly alike.”

In 2016, the government of Mongolia approved the National Gender Equality Program and updated the Law on Combat Domestic Violence, which was significant for the elimination of violence and discrimination against women. Specifically, registered domestic violence saw an 11.2 percent decline between 2016 and 2017 compared to the previous year after the law was passed, according to the police. This change demonstrates the government’s commitment to combating domestic violence, protecting domestic violence victims, and holding perpetrators accountable.

However, violence against girls and women continues to be a growing concern. Sexual abuse, especially against underage girls, is rising. 97.2 percent of sexual abuse victims are women and girls. The number of sexually abused children registered at the National Center against Violence was 43 in 2016 and increased by 21 new cases in the first five months in 2017, and only 18 of the 64 cases were resolved by the court. Of these 64 victims, seven were young children between the ages of zero and five.

According to the Good Neighbors International Organization, one in every eight girls under 18 years of age who took part in their survey reported having been sexually abused or assaulted in 2017. The results of a number of studies have shown that the main causes of violence against girls and women are associated with a lack of public awareness of violence and a weak attitude reporting and fight against violence.

Also, many people still think that sexual harassment in the workplace is not a violation of human rights. According to the first research on sexual harassment in the workplace in 2014, one in five people said that they experienced harassment and one in three people said that they knew a victim. The study found similar results even after 13 years, showing the same result in 2017. Most victims of sexual harassment in the workplace are women.

Prosecutor of Sukhbaatar District B.Tsetsegmaa highlighted that most victims of domestic violence are women and children. She said, “The Second Police Department of Sukhbaatar District receives over 20 calls regarding domestic violence a day. In Sukhbaatar District, first nine months of 2019 saw 2,273 calls regarding domestic violence, which is an increase of 15.8 percent since the previous year. Also, as a result of domestic violence, 20 offenses were committed, and one citizen had died last September.”

“Most people think that domestic violence is only a beating. But it also means economic abuse and invasion of the shared property rights. Recently, the General Police Department broadcast short videos through television to give knowledge and awareness about domestic violence and the number of complainants increased. In the case of domestic violence, people have to contact the inspector or social worker of their affiliated khoroo. There is a risk of being killed in the hands of an abuser. So, victims have to contact related organizations in every case of domestic violence.”

Some people with very traditional beliefs may think they have the right to control their partner, and that women aren’t equal to men. A partner’s domination may take the form of emotional, physical or sexual abuse. Studies suggest that violent behavior often is caused by an interaction of situational and individual factors. Violated partners may feel this need to control their partner because of low self-esteem, jealousy, difficulties in regulating anger and other strong emotions. Alcohol and drugs may contribute to violent behavior. Domestic violence can result in physical and emotional trauma or even lead to death.

One of the big problems facing Mongolian women is female-headed households. As previously mentioned, there are over 72,000 female-headed households in Mongolia, which is extremely high for a country of three million citizens. Female-headed households are largely associated with deprivation and poverty due to low salaries and living without a partner. Nobody wants to be a lead family without a partner. Female-headed households are mostly caused by early marriage or early childbirth. There are over 19,000 single male-headed households registered in Mongolia. This means that after separation, most women take their children. Specialists said that partners have to plan their family life very carefully and control the number of children and be sure that they can create a complete family together.

Women are facing many kinds of problems, ranging from a lack of equality of opportunity, domestic violence, and workplace harassment. Providing women and girls with equal access to education, health care, decent work, and opportunities is one of the most important goals in not only Mongolia but also around the world. The regulation of gender equality and elimination of discrimination in Mongolia is nationally regulated by the Constitution of Mongolia, Law on Government of Mongolia, Law on Labor of Mongolia, Law on the National Commission of Human Rights of Mongolia, Law of the Civil Service, Law on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Law on Gender Equality, and Law on Combating Domestic Violence. The government is implementing new legal frameworks regarding women’s equality and various organizations are taking actions to end gender-based discrimination, but further action is needed to ensure the protection of women’s rights and incite change in the collective attitude of the society towards women’s and girls’ rights.

Enkhnaranjav Tumurbaatar