Bayaraa's Blog

Bayartsetseg Jigmiddash
Bayartsetseg Jigmiddash, a fellow at Yale Law School.

"I Screamed for Help ...

Dated: Monday, February 12, 2018

... but Nobody Came"

This is the title of a recent BBC news article (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-42050602) about a Mongolian woman who was raped and beaten by her husband. The abuse continued for over 13 years, often in full view of their three children. Violence against women is all too commonplace in Mongolia. Women scream, nobody comes. Women report abuse, nobody believes them. Even worse, women are made to feel as if they did something to warrant the abuse. In Mongolia, nearly one in three women experience some form of domestic violence. Death caused by domestic violence accounted for 10 per cent of homicides in Mongolia in 2016, according to the National Police of Mongolia.

Members of the Y-Peer Network in Mongolia are working to end VAW by speaking with their peers about dangerous gender norms. Photo: Timothy Jenkins
Members of the Y-Peer Network in Mongolia are working to end VAW by speaking with their peers about dangerous gender norms. Photo: UNFPA Mongolia/Timothy Jenkins

Until recently, domestic abuse was not even considered to be a crime. It was seen as a family affair to be resolved in the home. Where formal justice was sought, the most common charges that applied were "intentional infliction of a bodily injury" or "hooliganism". And the women who sought justice faced obstacles that ranged from being turned away by police who did not take their stories seriously, being coerced into mediation, and being subjected to invasive and humiliating forensic examinations and lengthy delays in the legal process.

This is happening in a country where gender equality has been fairly achieved; the Gender Gap Index 2017 of the World Economic Forum ranked Mongolia 53 out of 144 countries. Women play a huge role in Mongolia's workforce, including even in underground mining. How can this be when nearly one third of the women are subjected to domestic violence?

In December 2016, the Law to Combat Domestic Violence and the Criminal Code for the first time classified domestic violence as a criminal offense in Mongolia. It compelled police to investigate reported cases of domestic violence, including physical, sexual and economic abuse. This is a crucial not only in ending impunity, but also in changing the behaviour of perpetrators and in sending a strong message to the younger generation that this is not acceptable behavior.

We all need to really see what is happening. From 25 November to 10 December 2017, Mongolia held a campaign called "Open Your Eyes" to open people's eyes to the high rates of sexual and physical violence against women. It was the local version of the United Nations' 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence.

It is important to re-examine the paradigm of violence and focus on the perpetrators rather than on the women they victimized. One simple example is how we talk about how many women were beaten or raped, and not how many men beat or raped women. If we address only the victims, the vicious cycle of violence will continue because we are not addressing the cause of the problem. Why do men feel the need to use force against women and children whom they are perceive as inferior?

There is an uncomfortable truth about toxic male behavior--and what men must do about it. Violence is not only an individual fault of some men, but also the consequence of social and cultural structures. Pervasive patriarchy and chauvinism are embedded in our society. This is especially true in Mongolia, where social norms expect men to act like a "real man", big warriors who use their power to demonstrate superiority. Narratives of masculinity justify and celebrate men's strength and control over women. So ending violence against women is about not only changing men's toxic behavior, but also the structures of inequality and gender norms that underlie it.

We should challenge social expectations, not just individual attitudes, and we need to create new shared beliefs. Women and men must stand together to challenge cultural mindsets. In particular, we must change weak or discriminatory legal and institutional frameworks that exacerbate gender differences in power.

Perhaps this is a daunting challenge. It will require vigorous efforts not only by the Government, but by everyone in society.

Bayartsetseg Jigmiddash is a fellow at Yale Law School. She has held senior positions in the Government of Mongolia, including as Secretary of State of the Ministry of Justice, and has been at the forefront of initiatives to end gender-based violence.