Except for the influence of Tibetan Buddhism, similar food like Momo (dumpling or buuz in Mongolia) and the fact that both are landlocked, Nepal and Mongolia seem to be very different countries.  Such difference may be also distinct for situation of gender equality and women’s empowerment. I worked in Nepal for 3 years in the areas of gender and women’s empowerment, and now I am working in Mongolia with United Nations Population Fund – UNFPA on issues of gender equality and gender-based violence. My experiences in these two countries have provided me an interesting comparative view on gender issues. Despite their differences, I believe that Mongolia can offer useful lessons learned for our efforts to achieve gender equality in Nepal.

On a first note, women in Mongolia have much better living standards compared to their counterparts in Nepal. The UN Women’s Report on Progress of the World’s Women 2011-2012, UNDP’s Human Development Report 2011 and Global Gender Gap Report 2011 by World Economic Forum reveal following figures:




Healthy life expectancy



Female with at least secondary education (% ages 25 and older, 2010)



Enrolment in secondary education



Enrolment in tertiary education



Total fertility rate (2011)



Maternal Mortality Ratio (per 100,000 live births, 2008)



Contraceptive use (%, 2000-2008)



Skilled assistance at delivery (%, 2000-2008)



Share of women in ministerial positions (%, 2010)



Share of women in parliament (%, 2011)



Child marriage (%, 2000-2010)



Adolescent fertility rate (Number of births to women ages 15–19 per 1,000 women ages 15–19, 2011)



Child sex ratio (the number of boys aged 0 to 4 years for every 100 girls)



Except for political participation, Mongolian women enjoy healthier and longer lives, more educational status, more choice of whether and when to have a baby, and a safer delivery environment.

Actually, in Mongolia, women have higher education levels than men, which is one of the few cases even at the global level. Female literacy rate (98%) exceeds that of men’s (97%). Except for primary education enrolment rate where that of girls is 90% and the one of boys is 91%, enrolment rates of girls exceed those of boys at secondary and tertiary levels (secondary: 85% for girls and 79% for boys, tertiary: 64% for girls and 41% for boys). More boys drop out from the school and the ratio of boys among the drop-outs is 67%. Mongolian people explain this by saying: “parents think that daughters need more education to get a good job, so send them up to universities. But, for sons, they can earn money by physical work or whatever job available, even without much education. Boys also need to help the work of parents, especially if they are nomads”. Whatever the reason might be, Mongolian girls are guaranteed an opportunity to study, unlike many Nepalese girls who cannot continue their studies even if they want to.

Female literacy rate (98%) in Mongolia exceeds that of men’s (97%).

However, this educational advantage does not easily translate into gainful empowerment for women in Mongolia. Over 60% of university graduates (of which women are majority) are unable to find suitable employment upon graduation. While women are concentrated in low-pay and low productivity sectors, such as education, health, hotels and restaurants, wholesale and retail trade and repairs, men tend to occupy better-paid positions in state administration, defence and mining. Even within the education sector, such discrepancy is noticeable –more than 90% of kindergarten teachers are women, and the ratio of men in the teaching positions increases as the level of educational institution rises from kindergarten to university.

What does this mean in terms of gender equality? This Mongolian case seems to suggest that having education alone would not be enough to attain women’s empowerment. Even with the high level of education, Mongolian women are facing a glass ceiling when entering the political sphere as well as gaining employment with social recognition and proper remuneration. In other words, education they have received at schools does not have any relevance and value in society, especially in terms of political participation and economic status. This leads to an issue of quality of education. In addition to the purposes of self-development and pursuit of knowledge, education also serves as preparatory process for making “social-being”. Especially at the higher education, educational institutions are required to equip their students with skills and knowledge necessary for certain professional works. In the case of Mongolia, it can be said that (higher) education does not meet societal needs, and therefore, the graduates, especially women, cannot find appropriate job, ending up in occupying unduly recognized work which is rigidly determined by gender division of work.

This Mongolian case seems to suggest that having education alone would not be enough to attain women’s empowerment.

This example rationalizes the emphasis of Rukmini Foundation on quality of education. We firmly believe that providing education through scholarship is not enough. In order for Nepalese girls we are supporting to become fully capable of creating and maximizing the opportunities, the Foundation pays equal, if not more, attention to the content of education the girls receive as well as to the learning environment. Examples of our efforts include Project-based Learning and home visit by Didis.

In short, this is one of the key lessons Mongolia can offer to Nepal ….

Empowerment of Girls through Education = Access to Education + Quality of Education

Eri Taniguchi

About Eri Taniguchi

With a M Phil in Development Studies from Oxford University, Eri is an expert in the field of development with a focus on gender equality. Her studies and works have been dedicated to bringing more gender equality and opportunities for women, especially in underdeveloped areas. She serves as a consultant by helping to set the agenda of the Rukmini Foundation as we strive to provide young girls more opportunities in the area of education. She is currently stationed in Ulan Bator, Mongolia with the UNFPA program.
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