Since ancient times it seems men have been assigned the task of supporting the family, but I searched everywhere and just couldn’t learn who handed out that assignment.
And apparently, we girls got our own special assignment: stay home, care for the kids, cook and clean and don’t even dare to think about working outside the home.
Even now, in the 21st Century, Mongolians believe that is the way things should be. Men work outside the home, and one of the places this is most obvious is in the Government. The men are out there, busy making important MANLY decisions – and of course supporting their families.
Let me tell you one really bad example of keeping this assignment in the decision making process. The Mongolian government ran a labor exchange program () with South Korea and sent 25,000 young men between the ages of 18 and 25 abroad. The thinking was that, young men need to accumulate a bit of wealth so they can begin a family when they return to Mongolia. But the MEN in government gave no thought to women in the same age group. What was the result of this?
It was that the young women are studying at the universities with the money that their brothers or boyfriends sent to their family from abroad. Statistics say that 63% of all university students are female, and only 37% of them are male. So as a result, the husbands – who society still suggested should be the strong head of the house and family – felt insecure, frustrated, and threatened. This led many of them to try to maintain their supposed superiority through physical abuse of their wives or girlfriends. Others drowned their fears and frustrations in alcohol.
In 1990, because the rights of religious freedom were adopted, Buddhism began to flourish again. And this brought back the negative traditions that denigrate women. Frustrated and insecure men used this old religious tradition as a tool to verbally or mentally abuse women in an attempt to try to hide their insecurity. Because of these kinds of wrong-headed decisions that negatively affect families and women, women started to fight for gender equity. This struggle had been on-going in Mongolia for at least the last 20 years, and it has continually been hoped that the decision making process works much more smoothly and fairly when women participate in the process.
And although many give lip service to the idea of equity, we now have only 9 women in the 76 positions in Parliament. This is the highest number ever. (Lip-service means you say something that you know people want to hear but you don’t believe it yourself)
In the past, the number was much lower. During socialism, photos of the members of the politburo, the country’s highest decision-making body at that time, were displayed in every home throughout Mongolia, but among them, not one female appeared in more than 70 years.
Since 1990, Mongolians elected about 433 parliament members, but only 15 of them were women. That sends a very strong negative message to women.
Now, having nine women in the legislative branch is a huge achievement. But it’s not enough. We have to fight for a quota in the executive branch that more accurately reflects the skills, dedication, patriotism and intelligence of the female half of the population. I hope this forum’s advice to political parties and the parliament is to push to have women participate in the soon-to-be-established cabinet. The word is WOMEN and not WOMAN.
I would like to point out that gender equality actually has a very deep philosophical root in Mongolian history.
This is the symbol of life. Men and women are equal to each other, and without each other’s presence, they are not whole. They need each other not only in physical or emotional ways, but also in intellectual ways.
This symbol was adopted as our state logo because it represents Mongolians’ life philosophy, hoping that all decisions would be made for or by equal participation of opposites.
So, there should not be any barrier to being equal. The barrier only exists because of our old-fashioned mentality and stereotyped misunderstandings. We should all have the right to choose our roles in life. No need for anyone to assign them. Like the role of parents is to care for children, like the role of students is to attend classes and do homework, the role of elected officials is to participate in the decision-making process, and involve themselves in making positive changes in society.
So it is important to set aside the old fashioned thinking that men and women have different roles in life. It is important to focus more on who can fulfill the task of moving the country forward. In order to learn to think in that way, we need to initiate a broad training program in schools and universities.
We need to change people’s minds from the gender-based mentality to the idea that all of us, women and men, can make equal and valuable contributions to both public and family life. The training has to focus on men’s mentality as well. It is true that we still expect men to be strong, and support the family.
It seems that men and women are both TRAPPED in gender roles that they were imprinted with as a result of being taught what to think, not how to think. If women fit naturally with their skills and passion in the job at government, which is an outside the home position, then someone whose skills fits well in house and parental skills needs to stay home. The only problem is the society is not prepared to accept that. That is one of the main reasons why women haven’t stepped up. Men haven’t been invited to have the choice of staying home with the family and being great dads if they are inclined to. So we have to support men with broader choices in order for women to be more fully present in the public sphere.
Media can play crucial role in this process. Instead of focusing on appearances or image issues of the few elected or appointed women and painting them with negative words, media could set gender quotas in their major political and family programs and continue them for every single airing. Take out the old way of putting women in family programs and men in political or economical programs. Put men and women together even in children’s programs because any of us could fit in those jobs or tasks with our skills and experiences, not with our genders.
And I believe one of the goals of having this forum is aimed exactly for that. Let’s keep on building stronger networks together and let’s keep on empowering ourselves by sharing our ideas and experiences.