QUOTA IN, QUOTA OUT
March 8, 2008. Ulaanbaatar.
I am a woman politician. I chose to be a politician when I was 26. It is important to stand up for principles, defend human rights and effect positive changes for our children’s future. However, it took many years to be recognized as a politician.
My first struggle was with the most important man in my life. It was 1997. When I said that I wished to speak up in the media about the political situation in the country, his response was “consider yourself divorced if you speak up in the media. I don’t want to be married to a woman who is gossiped about in the newspapers.” One year later, when my interview appeared in a weekly newspaper I was already divorced.
Another man very close to me, my father, was shocked when I announced that I wanted to run in the parliamentary election of 2000. I spent many hours and days to secure his approval to run in that election. He eventually became my passionate supporter, but it took considerable stress and anxiety to get him to understand that it was okay for his daughter to dream big.
The next confrontation was with my male colleagues in the party. It was all because I was the assistant to a high ranking official. “She’s just a door-woman,” was an oft heard comment whenever I contested for any position in the party. While my male acquaintances were considered serious politicians or praised highly for serving as the Prime Minister’s assistant, I, as the only female assistant to the PM in Mongolia’s history was dismissed as a door-woman.
All these problems ended on one day. A law was passed requiring all political parties to include at least thirty percent women in their list of parliamentary candidates. That December day in 2005, when the women’s quota was adopted, I counted how many barriers that law removed from the women’s long road to politics. At last our aspirations were legitimate.The quota immediately convinced husbands they could stay married to a politician.
The quota easily persuaded fathers that they needn’t scold their daughters for being a politician. The quota not only encouraged party colleagues to vote women into ranking positions, but also prompted them to seek out more women candidates. What a remarkable year for women it was!
Thanks to the quota, we women smiled when we entered politics. No more tears of humiliation at home or in the party. We were really expected to be here. How wonderful!
Then suddenly, there was another December vote. The quota was out.
Some women silently left politics. Husbands made sure that their wives were back in their “traditional” place. Male party friends quickly filled women’s spaces. A husband, who was married for almost 20 years, came to pick up his wife from a women leaders’ meeting. “What the f… you are doing here all day?” he yelled. “Go home!” he commanded in a terribly violent voice. He seemed ready to hit his wife in front of dozens of activist women. With tremendous effort, she left the meeting holding her head high. It was a humiliating and degrading scene to witness.
Women politicians have been holding up their heads and speaking out on important issues for years. They will continue to make important changes despite the insult…to them and to the quota.