Women stand up for equality and rights

Mongol Messenger, March 14, 2007. Wednesday

On the Eighth of March, flowers are given. Songs are sung. Women are loved. Men praise their mothers, sisters and wives as if they suddenly saw them after a year apart. Men give gifts and even do kitchen work. For decades, this is how we have celebrated International Women’s Rights Day.

It is worth remembering that this day was established not because women missed love, but to acknowledge and recognize the achievements of women. Women, you will remember, demanded the right to vote, the right to participate in decision making, the right to work while having babies, and the right to management positions and equal salaries for equal positions.


However, we forget all this on International Women’s Day. Among our toasts and songs, the original meaning of this day is forgotten. Rarely does the word “right” pass anyone’s lips when we talk about Women’s Day or Mother’s Day or the eighth of March.

The fight for women’s rights is an inseparable part of the history of the struggles for human rights. When we talk about the human right to vote, women’s struggle for their right to vote is noted as one of the brightest pages in this story. Everywhere, women have had to fight to be recognized. Under public pressure, considerable fundraising, and much debate, the marble monument of three women fighters for women’s rights was brought to the hall called the Rotunda in the US Capitol, for example.

At the core of the fight for women’s rights has been the struggle for the recognition of women’s achievements and contributions to society. Women in the forefront of the struggle never said, “Love us because we are weaker and more fragile.” They demonstrated publicly and loudly saying, “We work hard. Don’t value our work less than that of others.”

Today is March eight. What rights does a woman have now? You have the right to study. You have the right to vote and to run for an office. You also have the right to work, have a vacation, speak freely and publish. You now have the right to establish your family according to your wish, own private property, and share the family property. You are entitled to equal payment for equal employment. You can petition government, have fair trial, get legal advice, call for assistance, receive protection from violence, even have a women’s quota in the election. In short, women now have numerous rights and freedoms.

Let’s consider for a moment just who gave us these rights. Let’s remember those people today. Many thousands, even millions, of women helped secure the rights we are enjoying today. Among them are those who joined Red Cross units in the World War I, and those who demonstrated for women’s right to vote, women’s divisions of the former Soviet Union who fought for the World War II, millions of American and Russian women who worked in factories during the WWII. Only after women dropped their blood in those world-scale wars, was it considered reasonable to recognize women’s achievements and contributions.

This reminds us that the day of March eight should be a day to remember those days when women didn’t have the rights now taken for granted, and caution women not to lose the rights they are enjoying today out of complacency. March eight should be a day to recognize women’s contributions to our society.

As to Mongolian society, during the transition to market economy, the survival of many families rested on the tips of women’s fingers. If they didn’t sew the deels, all in the family of unemployed parents could have walked with no warm clothing. Because women didn’t drink vodka, they used to manage to bring their “pigs” without “burning” in the trade and feed their families. When women lost their jobs during the transition, they didn’t drink or fall apart. It was they who first attended new courses and training to start life afresh for their families.

Because women brought their salaries home without spending frivolously on their way, women managed to put dinner on the table for their children. Because they worked as if they didn’t have the right ‘to die during the cow milking season’ the livestock grew. Despite the fact that many women did not have their own homes or jobs, some women initiated non-governmental organizations and helped others to overcome the hurdles of the difficult transition time. They did the things the government couldn’t or wouldn’t do. They raised money for important needs for which the government couldn’t find money. The majority of the leaders of non-governmental organizations are women. By their efforts they are lightening the burden of our society tremendously.

However, when our economy improved and democracy found its balance on the back of our women, the fruit of the new economy was shared by our men. The male-dominated parliament seemed suddenly to want to lighten our women’s burden to find money for social projects – their own in this case. However, they are not intending to struggle to beg to raise money like we women do. Instead, they propose to just divvy up taxpayer money among themselves so they can assure their re-election – to do what?

Two hundred and fifty million tugrik is a large amount for a woman like me from the civil society sector. It took me over seven years to raise that amount, for at least twenty projects implemented by ten organizations as a result of developing and applying for more than thirty project grants. It takes true dedication, belief, and meticulous work to raise that kind of money for social needs. Also it takes a great amount of survey and analysis and lots of time and understanding of the social problems endemic to our still-evolving society.

Another man-lead movement recently branded non-governmental organizations as “places just for eating project money.” How can one say so? If a woman called Azzya Davaanyam didn’t struggle to raise money for her projects for eight straight years, five hundred children from poor families of Songinokhairhan District would likely have become street children. If Uranchimeg Bulgaa, an orphan young woman from Hovd, didn’t raise money for three years, orphan children from Hovd province wouldn’t have a chance to come to Ulaanbaatar and enroll in universities. If project money wasn’t raised by Enkhjargal Davaasuren over the last ten years, many hundreds of mothers and children couldn’t have been rescued from violent assaults in their homes.

If there was no woman like Zanaa Jurmed, an experienced civil society leader, Mongolia couldn’t have dreamed of organizing and raising money for the Civil Society Forum during the Fifth International Conference of New or Restored Democracies. Thanks to S. Enkhbayar, a woman activist who raised money for nine years straight, more than four hundred unemployed and low paid women managed to make their livings from their handicrafts. Among them now, there is even a millionaire.

On March eight, I decided to talk about the contributions made by women because our government is not going to mention such women. So let’s talk about them ourselves. Also, I address to you, men, don’t worry about loving us this day. Instead, take a look around and see what women are doing. And please, on this day of giving, have the generosity to recognize their work, and the consideration to acknowledge them. That is all I ask.