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The BBC's Linda Sills
"She's actively involved in improving conditions for rural women like herself"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 24 November, 1999, 14:03 GMT
Mongolia: Women redefine their roles
Batsuh, a Mongolian herdswoman, prepares lunch for her family on the steppe

By Linda Sills in Ulan Bator

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union eight years ago, Mongolia has been going through a dramatic transition.

The accelerated move from socialism to a free market economy has been a struggle. In particular, the role of women in the new society is just starting to be properly addressed.

Poverty has a female face in my area particularly
Batsuh, Mongolian herdswoman
The rolling steppe, just beyond Ulan Bator, the Mongolian capital, is home to Batsuh and her goats.

She's a champion herdswoman and a respected member of the local community. She's also actively involved in improving conditions for rural women like herself.

She knows the difficulties of providing for a large family - when she married her second husband, her brood grew to 18 children.

Multi-skilled women

Many local women visit her home seeking advice on everything from settling land disputes to job re-training.

A Mongolian girl cooking on the steppe
Unemployment is high in the region. In Mongolia, women make up nearly half of the work force - 10% can't find a job.

Batsuh says the balance must be re-dressed in favour of women: "During this difficult transition to a market economy, it's important that women get more training.

"Poverty has a female face in my area particularly. But if women are trained then they'll have job opportunities, and their conditions will improve."

City life

In the city, the situation for women is better. In a typical neighbourhood of Ulan Bator, two sisters, Horloo and Nara, are striving to ensure they won't end up in their parents situation.

Horloo trained as a pianist but now wants to study English in Britain
Their father is a retired mechanical engineer and their mother is a doctor. The future seemed secure before the Soviet Union broke up. But eight years ago that security disappeared.

There was no money left in government coffers and that meant there wouldn't be a pension. Nara and Horloo's parents have been forced to go back to the land. They are now farmers out on the steppe.

Horloo and Nara are determined to establish themselves in challenging careers. They have been to university because, they say, it's the only way for women to get ahead.

If women get a good education and look smart then they can get better jobs than men
Nara, Mongolian student
Nara, aged 18, would like to be an accountant. Horloo - who once dreamed of becoming a pianist and studied music at the country's top academy - wants to go to Britain to study English.

Nara thinks its possible for women to carve out careers for themselves: "It's much different from when my mother was young. Then the only role for women was in the home.

"It's still difficult for women nowadays, but there is less discrimination. We just have to get a job.

"I don't think men get the better jobs. It's the competition of life you know. If women get a good education and look smart then they can get better jobs than men."

Escaping the poverty cycle

The government has many policies to improve the lot of modern Mongolian women. However, some argue that very few of these initiatives are actually put into practice.

Women in conference at the WIRC in Ulan Bator
At the Women's Information Research Centre (WIRC) in Ulan Bator, a small group of young professionals brings women's issues into the spotlight.

Their special projects include micro-credit schemes to help rural women start their own businesses, which in turn, allow the women to escape the poverty cycle.

The Founder and Director of the WIRC, Oyuntsetseg, says that more needs to be done to help women get ahead in the new Mongolia: "Women play quite an important role in the family. In society their role is being recognised slowly since the beginning of the democratic process in our country.

"But our constitution is one of the most progressive in the world which proclaims all the equal rights and equal opportunities for women. But in actual life women have lots of problems in terms of being treated equally."

Women in politics

Out of 76 MP's in the Mongolian Parliament, Dr Sanjaasurengin Oyun is one of only eight women.

Each week, she meets with her constituents to discuss a broad range of issues. Recently, she was voted the second most popular MP in the country.

Dr Oyun says it's difficult for a Mongolian woman in parliament, but it's still better than most central Asian countries: "Attitudes toward women in politics are still a bit condescending.

"Although, when I meet people from Japan or Korea, even recently during this Asian parliamentarians meeting, I spoke to some MP's from central Asian republics and I felt that attitudes here toward women in politics are much better than in those countries I've mentioned."

Traditionally women have been the backbone of the workforce and family in Mongolia.

They're the first to rise in the morning and the last to go to bed. Yet there's an old saying here: "Women have long hair and short brains."

But they're finally beginning to shake that stigma as more of them make inroads into government and business.

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See also:
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