By Apolline Beucher
Two months ago, on June 1st, Mongolians celebrated Women and Children’s Day. This national holiday supposedly spreads awareness of the underlying issues encountered by women and children on a daily basis in Mongolia. With the fall of the USSR, the government went from an authoritarian socialist regime to a parliamentary democracy, thereby securing civic liberties, and in particular, increased considerations for women. A wide range of laws have been enacted since the beginning of the 2000’s to protect women from discrimination in education, and in economic and political empowerment. However, even though some major changes have been observed in most social institutions, not all areas of society have embraced gender equality in practice.
Eliminating discrimination is one of the key features of many Mongolian laws and social institutions. In 2012, UNICEF reported that there was no significant rise in incidents of violence against women concerning abuse and exploitation, including trafficking. In November 2012, Mongolia signed entry into the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), leading the country to take on OSCE commitments, including those related to gender equality.
The government had already implemented reforms for gender equality before 2012; measures have been consistently taken to reduce the gap between men and women in all fields of society. The most recent legislation was the 2011 Law on Gender Equality, prohibiting any act of exclusion, restriction, or discrimination in the workplace, as well as in domestic areas. Ensuring that central and local governments, ministries, political parties, and employers would receive penalties for failure to facilitate gender equality, this law triggered controversy but eventually passed. Subsequent legislative amendments introduced a 20 percent quota for female candidates put forward by parties running for seats in Parliament.
As for the domestic arena, the 2002 Law on Land was a major turning point for gender equality, giving woman equal access to owning property, and completing the 16th article of the Constitution; enforcing equal inheritance rights for movable and non-movable property. These efforts to accelerate gender equality have paid off. According to statistics, Mongolia is the leader of equal rights in the Asia-Pacific region. The 2012 Gender Inequality Index published by Social Watch measured the gap in equality between men and women. One hundred points means the country bears no inequality whatsoever. Mongolia scored 81for its scores in all aspects of society, right behind New-Zealand’s score of 82, but way above the Asia-Pacific average of 69. A detailed analysis of this data reveals a low level of discrimination in the family, where the mother is highly respected, and in the distribution of state resources, but Mongolia had medium levels of inequality in integrity and a son bias.
Education is definitely the strong thread running through all social arenas. In 2013, 94 percent of school-age girls were enrolled in primary school, compared to 96 percent of the boys. This gives rise to encouraging results when it comes to the propensity of women to be employed. Also, in 2013, women represented 46 percent of the total labor force, which means the task of taking care of the household has to be shared between two working parents in many cases.
However, in practice, not every field sticks to gender equality, especially in a country undergoing rapid urbanization. The difference between statistics from rural and urban areas is striking. Domestic violence is a serious problem in numerous low-income rural families. The 2005 Law on Domestic Violence is generally not applied in rural areas because of the absence of punishment for non-compliance, and the corruption in police departments makes enforcement of the law in rural areas less reliable.
Moreover, in rural areas, many girls carry the burden of unpaid work, condemning them to stay home. Although the 1992 Family Law established equal parental authority and spousal rights, daily practices still serve men better than women in the domestic arena.
Future laws will be proposed in the coming years, as gender equality has been designated by the UN as a crucial matter, necessary for the world’s progress and development.