Notes from the Field

Advancing Women Business Leadership in Mongolia

May 14, 2014

While Mongolia has made important strides in achieving gender equality, it still has a long way to go when it comes to parity between women and men in business. Currently, it ranks 33rd out of 136 countries according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index (2013), which constitutes a significant improvement compared to 2012 when it ranked 44th but still lower than in 2010 when it ranked 27th.

Mongolia’s 2011 Law on the Promotion of Gender Equality prohibits gender discrimination, including in the labor force. Compared to other countries, Mongolia, with a female-to-male labor force participation rate of 82 percent, does not rank that badly. Yet significant wage gaps still persist between women and men. In addition, women were excluded from working in specific sectors due to labor regulations in force until 2008 that barred them from working in the more dangerous, yet higher-growth and higher-paying mining sector in which women are today significantly underrepresented. Women are more frequently engaged in unpaid labor, with a third of women working as unpaid family workers, one of the highest rates of female unpaid laborers in East Asia. Women’s economic participation is further curtailed by the Labor Law which sets the voluntary retirement age for women at 55 – five years earlier than for men and 10 years earlier, at 45, if a woman has four or more children. While women can work longer than the retirement age if they want to, in practice many employers encourage women to leave early so they can be replaced with younger staff.

While women are better educated than men, with a female to male ratio of 145 percent in tertiary education, they are still under-represented in management and decision-making positions, especially in the private sector. Women from poorer backgrounds who want to establish a business also face challenges in terms of access to property, networks, and finance, as they are often unable to provide the necessary collateral to obtain a mortgage or loan for their business. In addition, traditional stereotypes and social norms as to the roles expected of women and men still prevail and women often face a doubled burden when it comes to having a career and taking care of the family.

On May 14, over 60 women representatives from parliament, ministries, the business sector, and civil society convened in the capital, Ulaanbaatar, for a consultative forum on women in business organized by the National Committee on Gender Equality (NCGE) of Mongolia and The Asia Foundation.

Ms. Bolormaa, secretary of the NCGE, opened the meeting and two women MPs, MP Erdenechimeg, head of the Women Caucus in Parliament, and MP Odontuya, both business women themselves, spoke about the current challenges women still face in Mongolia and about the actions needed to encourage and attract more women to pursue business entrepreneurship. Meloney Lindberg, the Foundation’s country representative in Mongolia, shared some of the findings of the recent study on “Access to Trade and Growth of Women’s SMEs in APEC Developing Economies,” conducted by The Asia Foundation, the Department of State, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), as well as some of the lessons learned from the Foundation’s other women’s entrepreneurship projects in Bangladesh and China.

As part of a series of panel discussions on business case studies, young and established women entrepreneurs from different sectors shared their experiences and provided advice to aspiring women entrepreneurs on how to capitalize on their strengths and seize business opportunities to advance their careers. In particular, one of the young women entrepreneurs, Ms. Nominzul Baldandorj, had participants in awe as she described her experience of working previously in the NGO sector and subsequently starting her own construction company. “In the beginning, I did not know anything about construction, so it took me three years to get my business started and as a woman in my twenties I had to prove myself double as hard,” she said. Panelists from government and city agencies, commercial banks, and civil society commented on the case studies and also presented their policies and programs in support of women’s economic participation.

In the afternoon, participants were divided into three thematic working groups to discuss strategies and identify potential solutions to overcome some of the challenges women face in terms of the legal and regulatory framework, social and cultural norms, and access to finance. During the plenary discussion, participants specifically highlighted the need to for closer networking among women entrepreneurs to help overcome the challenges. One of the immediate actions from the forum was to establish a Facebook group as a platform for further discussion and experience sharing.

The event builds on the International Women’s Leadership Forum (IWLF) organized in July 2012 by Mongolia’s Presidency of the Community of Democracies together with The Asia Foundation, the Zorig Foundation, and MonAme Scientific Research Center. The NCGE and the Foundation will be working together in the course of the coming months to implement some of the actions identified during the consultative meeting and the IWLF to support Mongolian women’s business leadership.

Naran Munkhbat and Robbie Paras are senior program officer and program associate respectively of The Asia Foundation in Mongolia. Tirza Theunissen is the deputy country representative and can be reached at tirza.theunissen@asiafoundation.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual authors and not necessarily those of The Asia Foundation.

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