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Quantifying the Care Economy in Mongolia

January 24, 2024

By Tsolmon Gantuya

Асрахуй (Latin asrahui) is the Mongolian word for care. (Image: The Asia Foundation)

Throughout Asia and the Pacific, and indeed in much of the world, caring for children, the sick, and the aged is consigned to mothers, wives, and daughters. This care work, an essential part of a functioning society, is typically unpaid, keeping women out of the paid workforce and depriving them of their share of inclusive development, and the economy of a substantial chunk of potential GDP.

In Mongolia, initiatives to address the social and economic inequities of caregiving have occasioned some confusion as the term asrahuin ediin zasag—the “care economy”— has made its way into public discourse. “Care” in the Mongolian language bears connotations of familial bonds or social norms rather than economic relationships. In answer to this initial perplexity, The Asia Foundation Mongolia has been working to familiarize the public with this important economic concept. Mongolia has in turn taken significant steps in the last year, with extensive research and data collection, to integrate the care economy into the nation’s development vision.

A critical part of these efforts has been the identification of key concepts and indicators. This includes both a language issue—the need for a common Mongolian vocabulary to support public discourse and policymaking—and the empirical question of how caregiving is rendered and remunerated. To help launch this conversation, the Foundation recently published a Mongolian translation of its 2022 white paper Toward a Resilient Care Ecosystem in Asia and the Pacific: Promising Practices, Lessons Learned, and Pathways for Action on Decent Care Work.

A dialogue between the National Statistics Office, Women for Change NGO, and The Asia Foundation, in Mongolia, October 2023.(Photo: The Asia Foundation)

Getting the data

Effective policymaking is based on solid evidence, and the government has taken steps to assess the conditions of care work and caregivers in Mongolia in collaboration with civil society organizations (CSOs) including the National Committee on Gender Equality, Women for Change NGO, and the Mongolian National Feminist Network (MONFEMNET).

Working with researchers, the government has launched a comprehensive study of the economic impact of care work in Mongolian households. A recent assessment by Professors B. Otgontugs, B. Myagmarsuren, and D. Khishigt of the National University of Mongolia (NUM) has found that paid and unpaid care work has an economic value equivalent to 26.3 percent of Mongolia’s GDP, including 10.8 percent from paid care and 15.5 percent from unpaid care. This puts care work on par with the vital mining industry in economic importance.

Another nationwide study by NUM, slated for presentation in early 2024, is assessing the intersectionality of unpaid care and climate change, and NUM’s recently launched Gender Studies Program, one of several research partnerships between the government, CSOs, and academia, will examine the gendered aspects of the care economy.

The National Statistics Office (NSO) is emerging as a key player in care-sector data. A recent meeting between the NSO, Women for Change NGO, and the Foundation noted the pressing need for comprehensive data and the limitations of current resources. The NSO acknowledged the care economy’s vital role in socioeconomic development and expressed full support for including care economy data in the next nationwide annual survey.

Meeting of the National Committee on Gender Equality, Women for Change NGO, and The Asia Foundation, in Mongolia, October 2023. (Photo: The Asia Foundation)

Making the gender connection

Limited access to affordable care services in Mongolia forces many women to provide unpaid care for their families, preventing them from joining the paid workforce. Last October, Women for Change NGO and The Asia Foundation convened a meeting with the National Committee on Gender Equality (NCGE) to discuss policy solutions. Ms. T. Enkhbayar, secretary of the NCGE, spoke of the need for better care infrastructure and more affordable and accessible care. The parties agreed to introduce the concept at the NCGE’s monthly meeting with high-level policymakers, and at a subsequent trilateral dialogue with the Ministry of Labor and Social Security and the Ministry of Economy and Development.

Awareness raising by Mongolian CSOs, particularly under the guidance of MONFEMNET, deserves particular note. Their energetic engagement can be traced back to a national forum in May 2023, where unpaid care work took center stage. The forum particularly galvanized CSOs led by marginalized women, who emerged as champions of this cause.

Members of the civil society coalition Feminist Movement Building for Women’s Economic Empowerment pledge their leadership and participation during the 14th “Through Women’s Eyes” national forum, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, June 2023. (Photo: The Asia Foundation)

Core areas of the care economy

Mongolia is encouraging government agencies, civil society, and the private sector to focus on key parts of the care economy. Researchers have pinpointed several priorities: (1) establishing a framework that embeds care issues in major policy documents, (2) forming a multi-stakeholder platform for discussion of policy, (3) instituting a national system for collecting care-related statistics, (4) increasing public investment and private-sector involvement in care services, (5) enhancing policy coordination and standards of care, and (6) addressing gender-based caregiving norms.

Acknowledging unpaid care work, addressing gender disparities, and identifying key areas for intervention mark the beginning of an important journey for Mongolia. The emergence of civil society organizations and government champions dedicated to advancing the care economy through research and data collection underscores the nation’s commitment to inclusive development.

Tsolmon Gantuya is deputy program manager for The Asia Foundation’s Women’s Economic Empowerment program in Mongolia. She can be reached at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors, not those of The Asia Foundation.

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