Asia Europe Journal

, 4:417

Working together: local and global imperatives for women in Mongolia


Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s10308-006-0068-0

Cite this article as:
Jones, H. AEJ (2006) 4: 417. doi:10.1007/s10308-006-0068-0


Mongolia is a country in transition. Domestic violence has just begun to reach the public and political agenda, due in large part to the activism and lobbying of women’s groups within Mongolia. State attention to domestic violence accords with Mongolia’s declared democratic and human rights agendas which are driven by political and economic shifts within society, the influence of trans-national feminism and the activities of two of the most influential non-governmental organisations (NGOs), each of which focus on violence against women. Local, feminist campaigning intersects with the global imperatives of treaty obligations and has resulted in the introduction of new legislation on domestic violence in 2004. Since then it has become apparent that there is a gap between the rhetoric of the law the reality of implementation. Women’s groups are battling this lack of political will to effectively implement changes.


MongoliaFeminismDomestic violenceViolence against womenActivismGlobalisation


Analysis of social movements has added rich detail in understanding collective action and feminist theorists in particular have provided insights into the complexities of women’s participation in social movements (Ferree and Hess 1995; Ferree and Martin 1995). However, this work has also attracted criticism for its ethnocentrism, as much is focused on Western societies. Rather than criticising previous research, it is more fruitful to consider what contribution can be made to the existing pot of knowledge on social movements by concentrating on one location in Central Asia, specifically Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia. This article is in response to a research visit to Mongolia where I was invited to review and discuss the recent legislation on domestic violence. The focus is on two specific Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to establish their origins, aims, activities and collaboration with international bodies. The NGOs are the National Center Against Violence (NCAV) and the Mongolian Women Lawyers Association (MWLA) and the role of feminism within these organisations is of crucial importance to establish the influences on their philosophies and working practices, the role of globalisation within the Mongolian context and whether local NGOs can influence the national arena yet withstand the risk of assimilation by the state.

The Mongolian context

Mongolia is about half the size of Western Europe, completely landlocked and located between China and Russia. The CIA World Factbook provides basic details on the population of Mongolia which suggests that despite its huge landmass it is a sparsely populated country with a total population of just 2,791,272. Mongolia has a very young population, with 70% aged 35 years and under; the average (median) age is 24 years, compared with 36 in the US. This young, articulate population is involved in public debate and demonstration on social and political issues with a freedom their parents did not have (Mongolia Information 2006). But life is still hard. Life expectancy is just 64 years (62 for men and 68 for women), compared with an average of 77.7 years in the US (74.8 for men and 80.6 for women).

Mongolia has an economy traditionally based on herding and agriculture. Although the agricultural labour market is declining, 42% of the population is occupied in agriculture whilst only 6% are involved in manufacturing. Prior to 1990 there had been 100% employment and by the mid-1980s poverty rates were low and standards of living were improving, but the 1990s saw unemployment and poverty soar. The unemployment rate is currently 6.7% but 36% of Mongolians still live below the poverty line. Morbidity and infant and maternal mortality are currently high. Alcoholism is perceived as a growing problem. Researchers have also detected the culturally specific fatigue-related illness known as yardaargaa amongst groups particularly disadvantaged by prevailing macro change.

In the 1980s, “95% of [Mongolia’s] trade was with the USSR alone” (Fish 1998, 127) but soviet economic assistance, which amounted to one third of GDP at its height, disappeared completely in 1990 with the fracturing of the USSR, resulting in deep recession for Mongolia. In March 1990, large pro-democracy demonstrations were held in Ulaanbaatar and during the 1990s a succession of Mongolian governments pursued Western-style reform policies (Mongolia Information 2006). Mongolia embarked on this period of transition with one of the lowest standards of living in Asia. Transition from one economic or political model, through war, economic crisis, social or natural disaster, has led in Mongolia, just as elsewhere, to the demise of traditional economies as part of the structural adjustment necessary to compete in a global arena. Until the 1990s, Mongolia did not have a democratic system of government and Fish (1998, 127) has argued that the “duration and extent of sovietization was greater in Mongolia than in any other country in the Soviet bloc outside the USSR itself”.

One of the most profound changes of the last 15 years in Mongolia has been the large-scale movement away from the traditional ways of life. The skills and products of the traditional nomadic community are seen, within the development towards the free-market, as economically irrelevant. Economically disenfranchised, large numbers of the rural, nomadic population seek alternative lives by moving to the cities. Although transition in Mongolia has not been accompanied by the wholesale terrorism and violence of its peoples that has been evident in Colombia, Brazil and elsewhere, Mongolia has suffered an unemployment crisis as an increasing proportion of the population come to depend on paid employment at a vastly higher level than the economy can sustain. The impoverished state barely had the resources to meet the basic needs of the poor and state assistance remains meagre and geographically haphazard.

Just as Mongolia began to emerge from this transitional period, severe winters and summer droughts in 2000, 2001, and 2002 resulted in massive loss of livestock leading to negative GDP growth. Foreign aid relieved some of the economic burden and economic growth has since improved but Mongolia’s economy continues to be heavily influenced by neighbouring countries including China, Russia, Japan and South Korea. Mongolia’s largest export partner is China, which receives 50% of all Mongolian exports. Mongolia’s largest import partner is Russia (31%). Inflation currently stands at around 44% (CIA World Factbook 2006).

Despite a heavy ideological and cultural investment in the pastoral rural lifestyle, as well as the importance of export earnings from the mining sector based in Erdenet (400 km north-west of Ulaanbaatar), politically and socially Mongolia is heavily Ulaanbaatar focused. The physical environment of Ulaanbaatar is evidence of earlier investment in buildings during the Soviet era, followed by a decade of neglect. Walking around the city, these crumbling buildings are now interspersed by new building work often financed from more economically dynamic Asian countries. Large concrete structures are covered in rough, wooden scaffolding and there is infill building with, to Western eyes, haphazard street numbering. There are cafes, Internet providers, computer shops and billboard advertisements for computer games. It is clear that a good many buildings have changed use with small commercial premises taking over part of them. Above these ground floor businesses, people crowd into upper-floor apartments.

Although the cities have seen an influx of people from the countryside in the past 15 years, many Mongolians continue to live in a ger and even within the city the traditional nomadic Mongolian lifestyle is still evident despite recent urbanisation. Originally designed for low-density rural living in pastoral communities, housing conditions in the ger camps around the major cities or interspersed within the urban fabric itself can be poor: urban ger dwellings often lack proper sewage and water systems leading to raised morbidity, poor child development and an increase in infant mortality.

Transition from rural, pastoral lifestyles has resulted in economic upheaval and poverty is widespread among women as a consequence of privatization and other factors linked to the transition to a market economy. Traditional Mongolian society was largely nomadic “where equal division of labour has reigned … women in Mongolia have always been equal to men, since their participation in livestock breeding and related livelihood activities was as essential as that of men’s” (UNESCO 2004, 317). Even in the Constitution of Mongolia, which was ratified and passed in 1925, “women were proclaimed to enjoy the same rights with men in social, political and economic lives” (ibid). However, McDonagh’s (2002, 535) cross-national analysis of women’s political participation contends that gender analysis challenges “assumptions about the relationship between political citizenship and democratization”. Even at a grassroots level, labour market conditions deteriorated disproportionately for women in the 1990s as the government reduced public sector employment. Legal requirements to provide maternity benefit discouraged private entrepreneurs from hiring women and the privatization of property has led to male household members acquiring (sole) ownership of property, thus loosening women’s stake in family prosperity. State health care provision also remains under strain. Family planning advice is available but the cost of contraception is significant, leading to a comparatively high use of abortion for contraceptive purposes (Pandey 2002).

Of course women are not the only vulnerable demographic group: children and old people are disadvantaged. Alongside this poverty is the emergence of an affluent, educated class who look to international benchmarks. In a land where 36% of the population lives below the poverty line, there are the signs of affluence and excess. The informal economy is flourishing and any luxury good or service can be obtained at a price. However, the international recognition of women’s key role in economic development as well as broader questions of human rights, have highlighted women’s situation as a policy issue on an international platform. In 2001 the Mongolian government was called on by the United Nations1 to “collect data and information on women living in poverty, disaggregated by age and according to urban and rural areas; to develop targeted policies and support services”. The concern of the international community can provide a clarion call to nation states, alerting them to what the problems are and what needs to be done to redress violations of women’s rights.

Globalisation and transnational feminism

Social movements can be defined as collective and organized responses aimed at effecting political change. Through a Western lens, such movements have been viewed as expressions of grassroots democracy.

What began in the early 1980s as the formation of a handful of small feminist networks comprised of individuals in a few neighboring countries has been transformed into large, sometimes professionalized organizations with officers, publications, annual meetings, web sites, ties to national and international non-governmental organizations (such as human rights groups), consultative status with the UN and so on. (Moghadam 2000, 63)

Social movements formed in the late 20th and early 21st centuries have been seen as based on identity concerns (McDonagh 2002). Debates have ranged over whether the women’s movement, or rather the Western women’s movement, is an identity politics movement (Scott 1998). Certainly it is “important to recognize the extent to which women have organized and mobilized politically, and the ways they have formed their own, alternative movements and organizations” (Moghadam 2000, 60) but Staggenborg (2001) argues that it is impossible to compartmentalise identity movements away from political activism within the women’s movement. Utilising a case study analysis, Staggenborg found that cultural and political activities shift during periods of opportunity for political gain but that cultural activities helped to maintain a feminist collective identity. This analysis suggests that there is a complex relationship between cultural and political action and that the political context is a crucial factor.

However, the cultural shifts and political activism have yet to have a substantial effect on the institutional landscape in Mongolia. Although women do engage in higher education in Mongolia, little is taught in relation to gender and it has been argued that “teachers and lecturers at respective universities didn’t begin to engage in gender studies per se, they only provided an incomplete introduction to the concept of gender” (UNESCO 2004, 319). The Mongolian Soros Foundation has funded some initiatives by women’s NGOs to introduce Gender Studies in Mongolia and a small number of seminars have been held since 2000. Creating a space to discuss feminism and develop ideas was crucial to the women’s political movement in the West (McDonagh 2002) and this is just as true for Mongolia. Moghadam (2000, 61) has suggested that new information technologies have helped to broaden “the horizons of women’s organizations, resulting in considerable international networking and many joint initiatives” with the United Nations playing a key role in this transformative process. For Mongolia, a nation with a very low density of telecommunications, the opportunity to participate in the transnational feminist community is starting to open but remains limited. In a country of under three million people there are just 142,300 main line telephone lines and 404,400 mobile phones. This equals about 6.5 telephones for each thousand persons and there are an estimated 220,000 internet users (CIA World Factbook 2006).

Much has been talked about globalisation but “the critical reality lies not in the general characteristics of globalisation, but in the particular and unique conditions of people’s lives, and the effects of globalisation in the places where we live: in our homes, our communities, our natural and cultural environments” (Murphy 2000). Where there is poverty, the poorest will be women and children. Community dislocation and displacement affects women in different ways to men. This is not peculiar to any society or historical moment but is rooted in the structure of patriarchy. Feminism identifies these power relations to illustrate that “women have a disadvantaged position in what is in effect a man’s world” (Moghadam 2000, 60). This is not to deny the differences between women but rather to focus the lens of feminism to examine commonalities. Women and children’s dependence on a male provider, and vulnerability to the benevolence of that provider, is deeply entrenched across the globe. Globalisation, particularly for transitional countries, can fracture local communities and reorder social order, often leaving women with the responsibility for their own and their children’s survival. Where many fall victim to such forces, many will also survive and flourish. As women face the annihilation of former customs and lifestyles, the potential for innovation and action are opened up. As globalisation has advanced, spreading poverty and disadvantage for many in its wake, it is also spreading, inadvertently maybe, the seeds of renewed civil activity and activism (Sklair 1999). This resurgence of civil society and localised responses to the effects of globalisation holds hope in people’s lives.

Feminist networks in Mongolia: producing knowledge in the triple shift

In Mongolia, the struggle of the government to survive the withdrawal of USSR, as a giver of aid and as a trading partner, has been a struggle for the very survival of the nation state. The inability of the state to fulfil its social welfare role provided the catalyst for a renewed civil society in Mongolia. As the local level groups became stronger they began to look beyond their own horizons to the international level to seek out support. The NGO sector in Mongolia is huge but women’s participation is often voluntary, conducted in the time between paid employment and domestic commitments and constitutes, in effect, a triple shift of labour. As Murphy (2000, 338) has argued “intensification of community has coincided with the expansion of opportunity for collective and collaborative action at wider levels of abstraction both nationally and internationally”. He is however critical of the simplistic notion of the ‘globalisation of civil society’ and instead defines this development as “the amplification of localisation through a process of concerted local, national, and international action” (ibid) arguing that the key issues lies in the focus of the action which remains local and specific.

It is clear that Mongolia today is in transition from its earlier traditional background towards a free-market economy, democratic government and international treaty partnerships. Mongolia is a party to over 30 international treaties including the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The National Programme for the Advancement of Women, which was formulated by the National Committee for the Implementation of the Decision of the Beijing Conference, was approved by the Mongolian government in 1996 and human rights and violence against women are two of the main goals of this Programme. The Parliament of Mongolia also fully ratified the CEDAW Optional Protocol in March 2002.

Within this international involvement, Mongolia also became a party to the Millennium Declaration. This Declaration was part of the 2000 UN Millennium Summit, at which 189 heads of state committed themselves to a set of eight Millennium Development Goals (MDG), that aim to end extreme poverty worldwide by 2015. Countries are committed to review the status of the implementation of these goals every 2–3 years and report back to the United Nations General Assembly. MDG Number 3 aims to ‘Promote gender equality and empower women’:

“Poverty has a woman’s face. Global prosperity and peace will only be achieved once all the world’s people are empowered to order their own lives and provide for themselves and their families. Societies where women are more equal stand a much greater chance of achieving the Millennium Goals by 2015. Every single Goal is directly related to women’s rights, and societies were women are not afforded equal rights as men can never achieve development in a sustainable manner”. United Nations Millennium Campaign2

A Millennium Development Goals Workshop was held in Ulaanbaatar in June 2005 to take forward the work on MDGs. The first report to the United Nations on Mongolia’s progress has been produced and, in relation to gender equality and the empowerment of women, violence against women is recognised: “domestic violence in Mongolia has increased in the last decade as a result of the transition period. Surveys conducted in 1995, 1998 and 2000 show that violence exists in 20.0% of Mongolian families. The majority of victims are women, children and elders”. MDG report on Gender Equality3.

As is a common feature in many countries, Mongolian commentators often link domestic and family violence with poverty, alcohol, poor housing and social conditions. However, again as is found elsewhere, research by women’s NGOs has also shown its prevalence in more affluent households. The Mongolian MDG report also goes on to state that “Decision makers, political leaders, and members of the private sector, who are predominantly male, lack sensitivity, knowledge and awareness regarding domestic violence, especially violence against women” (MDG report 2005, 25–26). The plight of women affected by gendered discrimination, violence and poverty in Mongolia has long been a concern of the international community, brought to its attention largely by the sustained work of women’s NGOs in Mongolia. Such discrimination was previously noted by the CEDAW committee in 2001 where they commented on the:

“deteriorating situation of women in Mongolia in a period of economic transformation … the Government has failed to prevent the erosion of women’s rights to economic advancement, health, education, political participation and personal security. The Committee urges the Government to protect and promote women’s human rights and to utilize the development and technical resources available as well as the human resources of the country, including civil society and women’s groups, so as to reverse this trend”.

The CEDAW Committee expressed their concern that violence against women had not been adequately addressed in laws, policies and programmes and urged that the Mongolian Government “enact the proposed domestic violence law, including marital rape, strengthen law enforcement and develop a holistic range of initiatives to respond to violence against women in the light of general recommendation 19 on violence against women and the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women”. Mongolia has responded to such demands and in 2004 the Parliament passed the Law on Combating Domestic Violence. It was this piece of legislation that I was invited to comment on and the reason I was invited to visit Mongolia in 2005.

There are many strengths in this new legislation, which recognises physical, sexual, emotional and economic violence, but there are also problems in that so-called remedies through the criminal justice system ignore the realities of women’s lives. The legislation was generally seen as positive by the NGOs and police and prison officials interviewed. It is nevertheless the case that, given the comparative weakness of state welfare provision in the face of social, economic and demographic change, there is a dependence on women to maintain familial and household structures which buffer such stresses at a micro level. Given Mongolia’s exceptional status amongst post-soviet states in maintaining a commitment to liberal democracy and a lively civil society, the issue of women’s rights also has a symbolic political importance in ensuring Mongolia’s identity as a modern liberal state and thus its access to the international community and of course to aid providers. Despite the achievement that the Law on Combating Domestic Violence represents, the current situation, the scarcity of resources and the complexity of implementation may foreground women’s rights but arguably extends their responsibilities as citizens without providing sufficiently robust infrastructures to enable them to exercise these rights and fulfil these responsibilities.

A strong NGO sector

Mongolia has a strong civil society evident in the number of voluntary sector organisations. There are 78 organisations which focus on women’s rights but only two which specifically deals with domestic violence. One concentrates on the practical difficulties of leaving the family home providing food and shelter to women and their children, whilst the other deals with the equally difficult aspect of legal support during times of crisis. Both groups come together to campaign for change and for justice for women.

The national center against violence

The National Center Against Violence (NCAV) is a network of women lawyers, researchers, activists and volunteers from across Mongolia. Their aim is to “contribute to improvement of system to prevent and eliminate Violence against women, children and Domestic Violence” (NCAV 2006). Its governing council includes members of parliament and the director of CEDAW. The Center was formally established as an initiative of the Liberal Women Brain Pool, Women’s Movement for Social Progress and the Women Lawyers’ Association of Mongolia on the 15th June 1995. The NCAV’s specific contribution is in its model of campaigning, education and support. This model is empowering and is based on an analysis of women’s needs from the perspective of women in Mongolia. The organisation has offices in two districts of Ulaanbaatar and eight provinces across the country; it operates the one small shelter for victims of domestic violence in Ulaanbaatar. More than 6,000 women have been clients of NCAV in its 10 year history but only 20% of this 6,000 reported the violence to the police. Their records show that of these reports to the police, only five men have been found guilty. The danger is that these residual five are all the public see: the rest of domestic violence remains hidden. In an interview with a director, Jigjiddorj Altantsetseg, this invisibility was explained in this way:

When we addressed domestic violence and established the Center, the public could not believe the issue and asked whether our organisation was simply copying America and other countries but now the situation has changed. Currently in Mongolia 1 in 3 women experience domestic violence. 1 in 5 families has a violent relationship. 1 in 10 women are hit by their husbands.

The Director of the NCAV has spoken publicly about the inadequacy of legislation and how it combines with poor police practice to deny women justice.

The Mongolian Women Lawyers Association

The Mongolian Women Lawyers Association (MWLA) has a membership of 700 legal professionals and academics. MWLA was established in 1992 by women lawyers, with the aim to provide legal assistance and promote the protection of women’s rights. There are 36 branches across the provinces and districts in Ulaanbaatar and its elected Board of Directors has seven full time staff.

Our mission is to provide legal services to women and engage in policy and other forms of advocacy with other women’s groups, as part of efforts to protect and promote women’s rights and dignity, advance women’s leadership, and increase their participation in social development, as well as to contribute to the establishment of a legal system that is responsive to the needs and protective of the rights of people, particularly women (MWLA 2006).

The MWLA operates under a five-point model that includes the provision of direct legal services; legal literacy education; policy advocacy; research and organizational capability building. Although their work does not focus exclusively on violence against women they have worked in close collaboration with the NCAV on the development of domestic violence legislation. The work of the MWLA also adopts a transnational approach of working locally in collaboration with international partners including the Soros Foundation, the Asian Foundation, the Global fund for women and the International Women Judges’ Association.

Working together against domestic violence

Domestic violence is undoubtedly a serious problem for women in Mongolia but data collected by the NCAV illustrates that the standard approach has been to use the Administrative Responsibility Law instead of the Criminal Law which typically applies a fine or detention for seven to 30 days.

This was the context in which the NCAV came together with the MWLA, to lobby the government for better legislative provision to ensure justice for women. CEDAW Watch in Ulaanbaatar has confirmed that the 2001 CEDAW report was the prompt for the domestic violence law and the MWLA and NCAV worked hard to secure the advantage of this international leverage. When the NCAV was established in 1995 their key goal was to have a law against domestic violence. Now the aim of both NCAV and MWLA is to ensure successful implementation of the law.

Challenging definitions of ‘real crime’

In an interview with Mr. Davaakhuu, the Head of the Public Relations Department of the Ulaanbaatar Police, it was claimed that the police receive on average 200 calls every day. In his own words, around 80% “is domestic related and the other 20% is real crime”. Domestic related calls, even though they may involve violence, and even though the police acknowledge them as a key part of their work, were not seen as ‘real crimes’. When asked why domestic violence is not seen as real crime, he answered, “Because the women drop the charges. By the old law the suspect has to be having some injury—a proven injury. People who are under violation have to give direct request for charge”. Under the previous Criminal Code, evidence of harm was just one element of a ‘real crime’: the other component was a report by the victim that would not be later dropped. A crime required a ‘victim’ to ask the law to take action.

The new law takes a more proactive approach to enforcement which may improve arrest rates but which may also lead to the denial of the wishes of the victim. An interview with a NGO worker revealed:

It is shameful [for the woman] to tell the police because of the requirements of investigation and finding evidence. [It is] not clear what will happen under the new domestic violence law, but under the previous Criminal Code there was a requirement for disclosure. Legally the police decided whether a case goes to court.

Under the new law the police are further empowered to “submit a request to the court regarding an issuance of temporary protection order or protection decision” (Article 7.1). This law also obligates teachers, medical professionals and social welfare staff to inform police of violence or potential violence (Article 10.1). Furthermore, Articles 14 and 15 enable attorneys to request an order for protection of the woman. This goes far beyond the provisions of the previous law and—while at first sight this amounts to a far more comprehensive response—there is a risk that, rather than responding to the needs and wishes of victims, the legislation may ignore victims’ voices, increase professional surveillance and intervention, and deny women’s rights.

One of the key provisions of the Law is that the State shall provide shelter to victims and promote NGO activities aimed at combating and preventing domestic violence. Although government funding of these activities is also addressed in the Law, the National Center Against Violence is concerned that these promises will not be effectively delivered. A problem lies in the Legal Study Committee whose members were against the law. They did not agree with the introduction of restraining orders for men and criticized ‘unnecessary’ and ‘inefficient’ provisions in the draft law. There were arguments that enacting a law made the situation worse because it undermined the family’s own dispute resolution mechanisms. Opposing MPs argued that the emphasis should be on reconciliation rather than criminalization and that clamping down on alcoholism will stop domestic violence.

Causation and prevalence?

There is an enduring paradigm in Mongolia, in that whilst it is evident that the economic and social transitions in Mongolia have created new stresses on families, an easy blame attaches to alcohol. Although, in the perception of the police and other agencies the link between alcohol and domestic violence may appear strong, a feminist analysis indicates that drink is a trigger rather than the cause of domestic violence. Western feminism understands domestic violence as arising out of unequal power relations by gender. Mongolian feminists also endorse the power-relations model in understanding male violence against women and connect that to a human rights framework to make full use of the international leverage of United Nations treaties.

There is a public perception of escalating instances of domestic violence but it is unclear whether violence is increasing or whether it is more complex than that and involves increased reporting by women and recording by police. Further research is required to investigate the accuracy of this general assumption of a rise in domestic violence because of the macro economic situation. Such macro changes need to be understood in conjunction with family dynamics. Mongolian family structures are traditionally patriarchal. If macro-change causes strain on family structures, stresses and tensions in gender relations can be expected.

Stopping the violence

Mongolian NGOs suggest that many victims of domestic violence do not want their ‘offenders’ to be treated as criminals. They only want the violence to stop. It was this understanding which led the NCAV to introduce the demand for behaviour change as a key objective of the new law, rather than simply punishment. The Mongolian legislation provides that the Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs will develop a National Programme for compulsory retraining of offenders:
  1. 5.1.4

    training programmes … conducted in accordance with a special curriculum aimed at resolving issues caused by relations between family members with no use of force.

  2. 7.32

    compulsory training programme aimed at changes of offender’s behaviour

  3. 10.1.2

    Responsibilities of social welfare staff …(to) conduct compulsory training programmes for offenders …organised jointly with the police

  4. 11.1

    compulsory training programme …can be conducted by a NGO

Domestic Violence Perpetrator programmes provide an alternative to other punitive measures and have had some success in the UK but need to be carefully planned, implemented and evaluated. In an interview with the Mongolian Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs it was stated that such provisions were required to be implemented by May 2005. The UK example suggests that it requires a much longer period of trainer training before an effective programme can be implemented because it needs to be:
  1. [a]

    culturally relevant,

  2. [b]

    recognise the expertise of women professionals working with women, who themselves are recognised as experts, and

  3. [c]

    produce behaviour change through offenders identifying and taking responsibility for their own violence, rather than simply inflicting punishment.

In email correspondence with CEDAW Watch in September 2005 it was noted that the implementation of the Law Against Domestic Violence has not been totally successful:

My comment on that is the awareness raising and advocacy campaigning among community/ordinary people and Criminal Justice groups were not satisfactory. There was no broad discussions and disputes among ordinary people and social workers and so on. Legislators pass the law and finished, as usually happens in this country, therefore almost no-body care about the implementation of this law in this country.

This lack of implementation illustrates the harsh realities of campaigning in Mongolia. In an economically impoverished society such as Mongolia where male interests still dominate politically, at least for the wealthy and powerful, how can violence against women stay on the political agenda? The continuing project for the NGO sector, now in collaboration with international partners, is to speak for those who bear the brunt of social transition, primarily the women who struggle to survive against poverty and violence. Moghadam (2000, 60) points out the that “International feminism has existed for over 100 years, international women’s organizations have been in existence for decades and links were established among women’s movements in various countries”. There is a need for women’s NGOs in Mongolia to continue to forge links with international organisations while remaining challenging of the local state. If NGOs become integrated into the mechanism of the state whose interests will they serve and whose voices will they listen to? The role of the NGO sector is to give an alternative space for innovation and action: to speak on behalf of the voiceless and act on behalf of the powerless. There is danger to any society where communities cannot look to NGOs to listen to them and to take action when the state is unresponsive. Murphy has argued “The greatest dilemma facing an activist organisation in the domestic or international arena is that the voluntary sector itself has become an intrinsic part of the system that it was once committed to transform” (2000, 344). Kriesberg (1997) has further raised the discussion to whether globalization may transform the identities of local organisations as their focus shifts to the international.


Modern Mongolians are experiencing profound changes in their lives. The economic and political transition of the state has huge impact on women and managing these changes in ways that ensure rights and freedoms is a core challenge facing Mongolia today. Domestic violence is an indicator of society and what is done about the problem says a lot about Mongolia in an international context. Moghadam (2000, 77) has argued that “feminist networks … offer an alternative to male-dominated political organizations; they are an expression of the political awakening of women; and they exemplify the maturation of feminism and the interaction of women’s activists around the world”. In Mongolia there is increased civil and political action and demands for greater political accountability. NGOs have a vital role to play in such processes and not simply as ‘sticking plaster’ providers, patching up a citizenship that is battered by the effects of transition and abandoned by the state. Instead, NGOs are striving to maintain their identities as vehicles for activism and change.

There are similarities between Mongolia and the West, one of which is in the disadvantages of the usual spectrum of punishments for offenders, in terms of their outcomes for women victims/survivors. NCAV workers agree that in Mongolia, as is the same in many other countries, women want the violence to stop but this does not necessarily mean that they want their men to go to prison. A rushed approach to designing and delivering perpetrator programmes may be detrimental to the protection of women’s rights and freedoms.

The MWLA and the NCAV are both grounded in the reality of women’s lives. The NCAV includes members who work directly at the grassroots level supporting women who have experienced male violence and, in a society that valorises the expert voice, the presence of professional educated women is an advantage to challenging the traditional power bases. The women’s NGO sector is increasingly using the language of transnational feminism as their involvement and interaction on a global platform develops. Still ‘acting locally’ but increasingly ‘thinking globally’ NGOs such as the NCAV and the MWLA are utilising the leverage of the empowerment discourse from transnational feminism to respond to the needs of women in Mongolia. Feminist organisations in Mongolia are thriving and taking advantage of the development and spread of information and communications technology, engaging in information exchange and connecting with international networks for support to achieve their goals of empowerment for women. In collaboration with transnational feminist networks they are securing platforms to reach out and raise the voices of women in Mongolia.

The law is important, but the law cannot answer the question of how to stop violence. Both main organisations argue that public education and support is the key. Using the law is only part of the process. An aim of Mongolia’s Millennium Development Goals is to fully implement the newly adopted Law on Combating Domestic Violence. There are provisions in the legislation which could help to provide assistance and help to protect women and so there is a position from which to campaign. However, without the resources to effectively implement the provisions of the legislation, this aspect of Mongolia’s development seems still a long way into the future. Mongolia can be seen as a society in transition, politically, economically and socially, with laudable goals in terms of rhetorical responses to violence against women. While the reality and outcomes remain to be seen, the fact that violence against women is on the agenda is a positive development.


CEDAW committee Report to Mongolia’s combined third and fourth periodic report 2001.


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© Springer-Verlag 2006