The National Forum on Women’s Participation at Decision-Making Level, which took place at the Central Cultural Palace last Monday, covered important topics related to women’s political leadership and participation, gender equality in politics, and roles of female MPs in the society.
The forum was co-organized by the Women’s Caucus in Parliament, International Republican Institute and Parliamentary Office of Mongolia.
MP Ts.Oyungerel spoke about the forum, current situation of women’s participation at decision-making level in Mongolia and related international practices in the interview below.
A conference was held on women’s participation at decision-making level last Monday. Mongolia’s representation of women in Parliament was ranked 98th out of 190 countries, which was deemed inadequate. What’s the reason for this low ranking?
Women have been achieving success at every sector. Mongolian women are leading global rankings in education, health, legal, and engineering sectors. Mongolia has been ranked low at 98th only for women’s political participation. The fact that Mongolian women, who have high intellectual potential to lead industries, have been ranked below some countries with the lowest literacy rate in the world is definitely connected to the legal environment.

Mongolia established electoral quotas for women very late during the 2012 election. This is 20 years behind Latin American practices and compared to European practices, it’s 50 years behind. On the other hand, we can observe that voters don’t recognize the need of women’s representation at parliamentary level because it’s inconsistent to their attitude and education. Voters’ education level is very high. Mongolia is one of the leading countries in terms of its literacy rate, education level, ability to receive information, and information accessibility. We have access to a lot of information and yet, [votes for female candidates] are low because the information provided to voters isn’t helping female politicians. If this is changed, it’s fully possible to vote for every female candidate.
The fact that Mongolian women, who have high intellectual potential to lead industries, have been ranked below some countries with the lowest literacy rate in the world is definitely connected to the legal environment.

You led the sub-forum for women’s participation at provincial decision-making level. Provincial representatives mentioned at the forum that people aren’t very supportive of women’s representation at local administrative level and continue to ignore this matter. Can you comment on this?
This sort of thing was talked a lot. N.Narantuya, who gave a speech representing Khovd Province raised issues concerning women’s representation in western regions. Uvs and Bayan-Ulgii Province are doing poorly in terms of women’s participation. The same goes for Khovd Province. Zavkhan is doing slightly better than other western provinces. The Law on Promotion of Gender Equality must specify quotas for provincial divisions of Mayor’s Offices and among provincial mayors. That quota is specified as 40 percent in the law, but there’s only one female representative in Bayan-Ulgii and Uvs Provinces. No one is supervising this.

The National Audit Office doesn’t inspect the fulfillment of the Law on Promotion of Gender Equality during regular inspections. Opportunities for women’s participation at decision-making level is scarce in provinces because the ratio of men and women assigned to important positions isn’t monitored. It can be said that regular inspection rounds of the National Audit Office, which controls implementations of laws, is poor.

Head of the Democratic Women’s Association (DWA) S.Odontuya and head of the Mongolian Social Democratic Women’s Association Ts.Tsogzolmaa gave an interesting speech on pressing issues for women’s organizations under political parties.

You managed the women’s wing of the Democratic Party (DP) and DWA for five years. What kind of difficulties and challenges did you face?

We couldn’t resolve two big challenges for a long time. Making DP leaders of all levels realize, understand and recognize that it’s possible to nominate female members was a huge challenge itself. While working as the head of DWA, I spent a long time on introducing and training female members so that they would get included in the list of candidates from the party.

The second issue was related to financial opportunities, which female members of every party encounter. Party’s internal and electoral funding is the biggest obstacle and difficulty for women with political aspirations. Women will once again lose their chances to run for elections if this issue is left the way it is now. It’s crucial for parties to stop demanding too much funds from candidates.

We’ve got what it takes to succeed, but we’re moving backwards because the society isn’t advancing forward. Being able to increase women’s leadership in every sector isn’t beneficial to only women. Raising successful female politicians is the achievement of the whole public. We’re lacking in terms of this type of attitude.

Is it true that Mongolia has the highest number of female politicians among Asian countries?

No, Mongolia doesn’t rank first for its number of female politicians. There are many Asian countries with gender quotas, which specifies that at least 30 percent of government and Parliament seats must be occupied by women. It’s different from electoral quota. Compared to other Asian countries, Mongolia is way behind. Our nation received an award for increasing representation of women in the quickest time among Asian countries. In other words, the Mongolian Parliament had three female MPs in 2008, but was able to almost triple this number within four years, when 11 female MPs were elected in 2012.

Women’s leadership in politics and businesses has been dropping every year. What’s the reason for this?

The number of Mongolian female politicians and entrepreneurs hasn’t been increasing.  From another side, other countries’ have been rapidly increasing. Rankings of nations show their competition to rank higher. If countries that were ranked below us surpass us, it means that they achieved higher success. If our rank is dropped even though the figures indicate improvement, it indicates that other countries are doing better and that our competitiveness has degraded even more.

Our biggest shortcoming is that we’re unable to succeed despite having good gender equality, increasing number of highly educated women, active women’s participation in society, and well-trained women in decision-making positions. We’ve got what it takes to succeed, but we’re moving backwards because the society isn’t advancing forward. Being able to increase women’s leadership in every sector isn’t beneficial to only women. Raising successful female politicians is the achievement of the whole public. We’re lacking in terms of this type of attitude.

The public continues to believe that female politicians must only help out poor people and build schools and kindergartens. What are the 11 female MPs doing to change this stereotype?

It’s going to take a long time to talk about the things women have done and what they achieved in their respective sectors. We worked at the defense, environment, and national security sectors. We’ve completed a wide-range of projects in terms of education, human rights and children’s rights. For the first time, a female minister and a female vice minister have tried managing the construction sector. Considering that the most number of buildings were built under their management, as well as other factors, every sector that was managed by women have seen significant development. Cigarette and traffic regulations were also completed by women. Female MPs personally participated in establishing new mechanisms in the Criminal Code, including new categorizations of crimes and punishment policy.

The female State Secretary of the Ministry of Justice, B.Jigmeddash, submitted a draft bill, emphasizing the application of alternative measures of punishment and completely changed the punishment policy. Now, Mongolia has many different types of criminal punishments, including detention, restriction of movement, house arrest, penalty, and penal labor. I believe that this proved that the policy can really change if the State Secretary of the Ministry of Justice is a woman and the Office of Legal Policy is managed by a woman.

Women have impacted greatly on not only the legal environment but also other sectors, but the public notices their participation mainly in family, child, education and health sectors. It’s not the public’s fault that they anticipate more achievements in sectors where women’s participation is more evident.

Sometimes male politicians disregard and look down on female MPs and representatives. Has this attitude of male politicians changed?

Parliament has changed internally. At first, they hardly praised female MPs, but now, they encourage us.

The Speaker of Parliament praised that female MPs always come early for meetings, always take the initiative to lead working groups, and work on the tiniest details of projects. He also commented that it would be good to have more female MPs. Heads of standing committees frequently compliment us, too.

Speaker of Parliamet Z.Enkhbold giving a speech at the National Forum on Women’s Participation at Decision-Making Level
Speaker of Parliamet Z.Enkhbold giving a speech at the National Forum on Women’s Participation at Decision-Making Level

Whenever a difficult law is initiated, MPs encourage female members to work in the working group and in return, we try to meet their expectations. In fact, there’s hardly any female MP who hasn’t led a working group. We’re usually put in charge of paper work and details.

I led three working groups when I was a minister. Even after resigning, I led three other working groups. All of them were for developing laws that had to be approved by Parliament, including draft laws on rights of people with disabilities, pension policy, and child care services.

Foreign female representatives underlined at the National Forum on Women’s Participation at Decision-Making Level that most women don’t have the courage to enter politics. Why do women fear the political world? Is it related to money or discrimination from men?

They can see many overlapping difficulties. My fear is mainly related to managing the expenses. Besides, male members of political parties don’t recognize female members, causing them to lose confidence and enthusiasm. Breaking through the wall of male politicians from provinces and districts is a huge endeavor for women. Some parties welcome women with open arms and they work very successfully. For example the DP group of Bayangol District recruits women and forms a team with strong women. Other party groups should learn from them. Having 10 party groups that support women like the Bayangol District’s DP group will completely turn around women’s participation in politics.

What will female politicians do next?

In my case, I’m concentrating on waste management and water purification and sanitation. Water and sanitation are issues that women are constantly concerned about even at home. Female MPs are planning to cooperate on putting Tost and Tosonbumb Mountains under a special state protection. I plan to complete these two major projects within the parliamentary spring session.

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