International Development Law Organization

Mongolia: From teacher to activist against gender-based violence

20 Mar 2020

“I try to start my training with short talks using simple language. Otherwise terms like ‘global human rights’ or ‘gender-based violence’ can scare them,” says Munkhbayar Tumur, a widowed mother of three and the Head of ‘Urchuud’ (meaning ‘craftspeople’), a small civil society organization (CSO) based in Umnugobi, Mongolia’s largest province with a population of around 68,000 and a population density of just 0.3 people per square kilometer.

Ms. Tumur and her colleagues face daunting challenges in their work supporting the communities in Umnugobi, including a lack of funding to run operations, traveling long distances to reach female camel herders, organizing training in remote areas and traditional customs that reinforce gender stereotypes. Women and girls, female-headed and low-income households, children out of school and the disabled are among their main beneficiaries.

I try to start my training with short talks using simple language. Otherwise terms like ‘global human rights’ or ‘gender-based violence’ can scare them

Ms. Tumur began her working life as a teacher in a state high school. In 1985 she had an opportunity to work as a vocational trainer, teaching sewing and handicrafts to female herders in the Gobi Desert, an experience that inspired her to establish Urchuud. The organization initially focused on providing training for female herders and low-income households enabling them to sell their souvenirs at local exhibitions and tourist spots. This extra income can be a critical safety net for herders, whose livelihoods are vulnerable to the country’s extreme weather conditions, lack of roads and sometimes electricity.   

Since then, Urchuud has grown. Its seven staff now provide a range of services including vocational training, start-up and leadership courses to improve livelihoods, primary legal assistance, as well as community meetings to raise awareness on legal rights and services. To date, the organization has provided training and legal assistance to more than 3,000 people in the province, in collaboration with the relevant government agencies, police authorities and local social workers.

In 2019, Ms. Tumur was invited to join a Forum of CSOs created under IDLO’s multi-year program to strengthen the response to gender-based violence (GBV) in Mongolia, implemented with the support of Global Affairs Canada and in close cooperation with the Government of Mongolia, justice sector institutions, professional legal associations, academia and civil society.

Munkhbayar Tumur (second from left) participating in IDLO's Forum for CSOs in 2019

The Forum aims to strengthen coordination and referral mechanisms among CSOs and develop their capacities to provide quality primary advice to survivors of domestic violence, putting the survivor at the center. Since its establishment, the Forum now has members in 20 of the 21 provinces of Mongolia. Alongside the justice sector, Mongolian CSOs play an essential role in providing support to these survivors, informing them about their rights, providing services (including legal aid) and helping to ensure their rights are respected, and their voices are heard. CSOs are often more effective in reaching out to more vulnerable groups, those most left behind, and they can also ensure a larger geographical coverage.

I realized that among my past vocational training participants, there were survivors of domestic violence, but I did not know how to help them at that time

“Before this training I was not really aware of what GBV and domestic violence is. But through this training I have gained a stronger understanding and awareness of this issue. I realized that among my past vocational training participants, there were survivors of domestic violence, but I did not know how to help them at that time,” shared Ms. Tumur.  

After completing the IDLO training, Ms. Tumur shared the knowledge gained with her team and started identifying needs within her community. Urchuud subsequently organized community sessions for girls and women in the ‘soum’ (subdivision of province) to raise awareness about GBV, the existing laws and regulations to combat domestic violence, and the types of social welfare and services available in the community. They also began providing primary legal assistance and referral for survivors of domestic violence.

Domestic violence in Mongolia is increasingly being recognized as a serious challenge that needs to be tackled urgently. According to a 2017 study by the United Nations Population Fund, domestic violence affects 57.9% of Mongolian women who have been in a relationship with a man. Despite the criminalization of domestic violence in Mongolia in 2016, following pressure from civil society and activists, women and girls still face barriers to accessing information and community perceptions are slow to change.

Rural herders do not often come to the center of the province, and women and young girls lack information about their legal rights and the public services available to them

“The demand for awareness on GBV and legal rights is high in our community. Rural herders do not often come to the center of the province, and women and young girls lack information about their legal rights and the public services available to them. I met a woman, a single mother with four children who didn’t know that there was an allowance available to her,” said Ms. Tumur, whose dream is to increase her team’s legal capacity and establish her own center to continue supporting micro-entrepreneurs and also expand services for survivors of gender-based and domestic violence in the future.

“The Umnugobi province has announced 2020 as a Year of Supporting Education and Family. We are looking forward to expanding our outreach to the people in need,” she concluded.

Top image credit: Kertu - stock.adobe.com

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