On the occasion of International Women’s Day, a graduate of the University of Melbourne and one of the founders of Women for Change NGO, B.Zolzaya (Zola), interviewed queer rights activist G.Dorjjantsan about the rights of women and minority groups at the invitation of The UB Post.
Health Program Manager at the LGBT Center G.Dorjjantsan graduated from the School of Population and Global Health of the University of Melbourne. He also graduated as a doctor but currently works on projects for the minority’s reproductive health.
What do you think about International Women’s Day?
Mongolians usually consider this day a holiday and celebrate it annually. There is a tendency to only make women happy on this day. But this day is aimed at protecting women’s rights. Many women fought to establish International Women’s Day for centuries. We can make women happy with gifts and I don’t rule it out. However, it is an important day for us to talk more about women’s rights. The participation and voice of men is indispensable.
In order to protect the rights of various groups in society, we observe special days. Why is this necessary? What do you think about this?
In the event of a violation of the rights of certain social groups, their rights will need to be protected. We need to know why their rights are being violated. As a result of great struggle, women have secured their rights to sexual reproductive health and equal employment. Women fought to create these rights. On the contrary, men’s rights have long been recognized and established in society without the need to fight. Therefore, it is necessary to highlight the rights of groups whose rights are being seriously violated and mark specific months and days for it.
In particular, men’s political leadership does not need to be emphasized. Men have been the majority in politics. Mongolians often use the proverb that goes, “If the hair is long, the mind is short”. Nowadays, there are hardly any conservative people who think this way. In the old days, people used to say, “It is not good for a woman to get involved in public affairs”. Mongolians have been violating women’s rights in the name of tradition.
Culture itself must develop. When a human rights violation is discussed, the issue of old/traditional culture is raised, so it is often left unresolved. It is crucial to keep the culture alive. What’s your position on this?
I agree with that. Women’s rights are often violated because of traditional cultural issues. For instance, some Mongolian traditional sports do not include women. It has been explained that women are not allowed to participate in traditional sports, such as ankle-bone shooting game, because they have been following this culture for hundreds of years. Mongolians have traditionally respected men. As we live in the 21st century, the reason for all this must be explained by evidence, not using culture as an excuse. If culture does not fit into modern society, it must be changed.
Do you think gender equality is important for men too? Do they need to be involved in women’s rights?
Equality has become one of the most important principles of human rights. Women are beginning to talk openly about their problems. We, men, need to understand them. Men and women must work together to achieve this equality. Depending on the culture, there are stereotypes in society. Women are raising their voices to change these stereotypes, but it is not influencing men that well. But men can resolve it by explaining and influencing each other. On the other hand, it is difficult for people to accept change because of their stereotypes about gender equality. The “outdated culture” that has followed for many years cannot be easily destroyed.
Gender equality also benefits men. Some men understand that gender equality is a way to take away men’s power and divide it. But it is a matter of equalizing the rights of men and women. We are also victims of gender-based discrimination. So gender rights are very beneficial for us as well. In fact, this gender inequality only benefits men in power with money. On the contrary, it affects economically poor men and sexual minorities like us. Such people are also at risk.
There is a need to protect the rights of minorities within minority groups. Specifically, the rights of lesbian or bisexual women and women with disabilities are often violated. Moreover, there are issues that exclude the reproductive issues of people with disabilities. So how should we protect their rights?
I work on minority issues. The more identities women have, such as women with disabilities and of a sexual minority, the more their rights are violated. Therefore, on International Women’s Day, the rights of these people should also be taken into account. The world is beginning to pay attention to the rights of these women. In Mongolia, too, people have begun to focus on this issue. Countries around the world are following the principle of leaving no one behind.
Can you share an unforgettable memory you have of International Women’s Day? How did you celebrate this day before?
When I was in high school, boys would give roses or presents to girls. We also decorated the classroom and tried to make them happy. In Mongolia, there is a tradition that women hold celebrations for men on Soldiers’ Day after International Women’s Day. On the contrary, I think we need to celebrate this day by incorporating the protection of women’s rights into policies and by enshrining such rights in organizations’ rules to eliminate sexual harassment at the workplace. For instance, we can take the initiative to dispense free tampons and pads. Instead of giving gifts, I want people to make efforts for women’s rights on this special day.
Some countries have legalized the provision of free period products to girls and women. I read an article that asked, “If men had periods, how would life be different?” Can you imagine that?
If men experienced menstrual periods, tampons, pads and reusable period products would be free. Devices and products better than a menstrual cup would have been created. In any case, men have more power. They have never felt this problem. Therefore, the only way to solve this problem is to get suggestions from women. This is the main problem of economic and social inequality. While men never buy period products, women spend a certain amount of their monthly income on menstrual products. This creates economic inequality. To be fair, it must be distributed free of charge for the sake of sexual and reproductive health. Menstruation is not an option for women’s sexual health.
There is also the issue of contraception. Because women carry children, there is a tendency to shift all responsibilities related to birth control to women. Why shouldn’t men undergo contraceptive surgery? While this technique is available, only women get contraceptive implants and take medication, which leads to hormonal health issues in women. Pregnancy occurs with the involvement of a man and a woman. If both parties do not want to have children, the man can also block the fallopian tubes. This is another method of contraception.
It is believed that better decisions can be made by involving representatives of social groups. In Mongolia, 76 people are making major public decisions. Eighty-three percent of them are men. The principle of equal representation is not met in the country. In particular, people with disability were not included in the working group in charge of preparing the bill on persons with disabilities. Why is it necessary to include representatives of all levels of society in decision-making?
Everyone has their own life. People don’t understand the life they haven’t seen or experienced. If only men make decisions about women’s sexual and reproductive rights, decisions will be one-sided. An equal representation will lead to decisions that benefit all social groups.
It is important to empower women. For many years, people have thought that only men should make decisions and that women should be more submissive and passive. There is a stereotype that men must be economically capable. Such stereotypes are good for neither women nor men. Women cannot be economically dependent if men are given full economic rights. Therefore, the more women are empowered and educated, the more men will benefit. There is also a widespread perception in society that all men should be masculine. This attitude negatively affects men’s mental health.
Journalist: Some people think that the rights of Mongolian women are well respected, while others disagree. If improvement is indeed needed, what should we do first? Are women’s rights sufficiently respected at the decision-making level?
Zola: Mongolia has ranked in 76th place out of more than 150 countries in the Global Gender Gap Index 2020. It examines the gap between men and women across four fundamental subindexes: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. Mongolia scores a lot in terms of access to medical care. But in terms of political empowerment, the country ranks 112th out of 155 countries. People say that the rights of Mongolian women are well ensured. There are people who compare Mongolian women to women sentenced to death by stoning. But human rights are incomparable. I was born a woman in Mongolia, so I should not be compared to anyone in Arabia or Africa.
G.Dorjjantsan: As a minority rights activist, I find it frightening to make comparisons of human rights. The biggest and most important principle of human rights is equality. Mostly women’s rights are violated in Mongolia. Their voices are needed at the decision-making level.
Journalist: People say that the most stereotyped people are women themselves. What are your positions on this?
Zola: There is a stereotype that a woman should obey the rules. However, men can break stereotypes. Women have no right to violate it and if they do, they get criticized. Therefore, women have no choice but to be obedient and spread this stereotype themselves. For instance, I get attacks for doing comedy acts. But a man can make jokes about their sex life. In addition, women have become a part of this culture because they do not have enough information and education on human rights. It takes a lot of sacrifices to fight against culture. It is not easy.
G.Dorjjantsan: There is a notion of blaming the victim. Women themselves have the wrong attitude. People think that people with disabilities like to be cared for and that sexual minorities like to be different. Such people are blamed for being themselves.
Journalist: According to a study, the public expects women politicians to be resolute, courageous and militant. Do you think that woman should be like that in order to be involved in the decision-making process?
Zola: Because leadership has been dominated by men for centuries, we think of men when we talk about leadership. The resolute, courageous and militant traits are masculine. However, in recent leadership studies, the ability to be flexible, emotionally connected, and able to understand team members have become an important leadership skill. Determination and toughness are no longer considered the sole traits of leadership. Negotiation or communication skills, which are characteristic of women, have become essential leadership skills. Recent studies have shown that women leaders demonstrate better leadership amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In other words, they have made human-friendly decisions.
G.Dorjjantsan: Internationally, leadership refers to the ability to be flexible, to be able to listen to the team, and be able to work in a team. It is believed that leaders who can keep the workplace “healthy” without violence or discrimination can achieve higher productivity. In fact, one of the most important competencies recognized by many developed countries is empathy. In general, it is the ability to listen to many issues and make the right decisions.